GREENWICH, N.Y. — Greetings! When I am not putting together editions for the Morning Ag Clips and playing a small role in operations for Farmhouse Communication, I am a volunteer with my local fire department.
As we observe National Farm Safety and Health Week this September, I remember a call our department was requested to for an overturned farm tractor. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, and it was a minor accident with minimal damage to property and the environment.
Recently this past July, Unionville Volunteer Fire Department (N.C.) responded to Mecklenburg County to assist Mint Hill and Charlotte Fire Departments with a grain bin engulfment. Unionville firefighters used their grain bin rescue device with Mint Hill and Charlotte firefighters to successfully free the victim from the soybeans.
Outside training, this was the first time that Unionville firefighters used the device in an emergency situation after receiving a grant to purchase it in 2016. This reminds me of a saying that many who are in the fire service know too well: “It’s a nice tool to have, but hopefully we will never have to use it in an emergency.”
Another incident that recently happened was in Pennsylvania on July 24. A smoldering silo exploded in Lycoming County, sending sections of the roof hundreds of feet away. Again, thankfully no one was injured.
While speaking with Lancasterfarming.com Eric Rickenbach, a Berks County instructor in silo emergencies, the Harvestore silo contained ryelage from two years ago, and it wasn’t being used regularly. Rickenbach, who advised firefighters at the scene, suspected the unloader was the cause.
“My best guess is he probably had something going out in the unloader, like a bearing, and it started smoldering and possibly compromised the breather bag and allowed air inside and it took off,” he said. “Based on where the fire was, I’m thinking it was the unloader.”
Rickenbach said the owner of the farm told him he suspected there was a problem with the silo earlier in the day.
These calls are just a few of many that fire departments across the United States are called to on a daily basis. Rural fire departments from across the country train on various portions of farm rescues and farm emergencies. Some of the areas include: farm tractor and machinery extrication, farm silo operations, farm confined space, and farm safety awareness.
Agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries in the country. Farmers are at high risk for fatal and non-fatal injuries. In 2019, more than 2.1 million full-time workers were employed in production agriculture in the United States. In 2019, 410 farmers and farm workers died from work-related injuries, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Here’s a look at a few of the areas of concern for fire departments in rural areas.
Traveling on roads
From the NIOSH figures, the leading cause of death occurred in transportation incidents. Experts suggest that farmers and ag workers always keep safety around farm equipment a top priority. Training in proper procedures and proper use will result in fewer accidents and fatalities.
When farmers need to travel over rural roads, the National Ag Safety Database (NASD) suggests to avoid travel during high traffic times, bad weather, and before dusk or dawn.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), from 2013-17 there were 326 deadly barn fires across the country. The fires resulted in one civilian death, 10 civilian injuries and roughly $28 million in property damage. Those figures do not include the deaths and injuries to farm animals. The NFPA provided this factsheet for barn fire prevention.
A Rutgers University fact sheet on fire prevention on the farm suggests that if at all possible, hay, straw and other highly flammable materials should not be stored in the same building in which livestock are housed.
The factsheet also recommends that once hay is stored, to monitor the temperature and determine if hay is at risk for spontaneous combustion. Insert a thermometer into the middle of the stack to check the temperature; if it reads higher than 150 Fahrenheit, the hay needs to be cooled by unstacking the bales to promote cooling. If the temperature climbs to 157 Fahrenheit, call the fire department to assist in removing hay bales from the storage structure.
Caution must be taken when dealing with flammable liquids. Flammable liquids are gasoline, diesel, oils, solvents and cattle dips. Usually, these are stored in the shop and maintenance areas.
According to a factsheet from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Nebraska Forest Service, flammable liquids should be stored in a designated area away from all sources of heat.
Also, flammable liquids should be stored in Underwriter Laboratories (UL) approved containers. Milk jugs, coffee cans and other jars, etc., are not approved containers.
What can famers do to help fire departments in the event of emergencies? One action our department takes is to visit businesses, homes, etc., to conduct a walk through of the property, so we get to see the layout and get a feel for the layout and scope of the properties in our district.
Farmers can reach out to their local departments and offer the use of their farm to do a walk through and possible training opportunities. Farmers can offer the use of their silos and barns, so fire departments can use their specialized agricultural rescue equipment.
This checkilist has tips and tricks to assist farmers to reduce the risk of fire.
Lastly, I would recommend looking into joining your local volunteer fire department. Fire departments across the country need new members to better serve the residents in their towns and villages.
Volunteers come from all walks of life, and could benefit from someone from an agricultural background, whose job skills and problem solving abilities would be a tremendous asset to their local department.
National Farm Safety and Health Week takes place September 18-24. The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS) has several programs and webinars with each day focusing on tractor safety and rural roadway safety, overall farmer health and wellness, safety and health for youth in agriculture, confines spaces, and safety and health for women in agriculture.
— Patrick Moran, Editor, Morning Ag Clips