MIESVILLE -- At least eight people died in grain bin accidents last year in Minnesota, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Miesville firefighters took a step last year to prevent such deaths in this region.

The Miesville Fire Department was one of 41 rural fire departments chosen to receive a grain bin rescue tube and training through the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Grain Bin Safety Campaign. More than a thousand departments from across the United States were nominated.

“I’m excited about this,” said Tom Latuff, Miesville fire chief. “We have looked forward to this for a long time. The issue was getting the money for the tube and training.”

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Thanks to the Nationwide program, Latuff no longer has to worry about finding the money. The rescue tube and the training program were delivered to the Miesville Fire Station on Nov. 12 by Jeff Sanderfield of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety in Peosta, Iowa, an organization that is teaming with Nationwide to provide the training programs.

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Tom Latuff, Miesville fire chief, said he is excited to have the grain bin rescue tube as part of the equipment available locally for use by his team. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
Tom Latuff, Miesville fire chief, said he is excited to have the grain bin rescue tube as part of the equipment available locally for use by his team. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

Sanderson drove to Miesville in a truck carrying a small grain bin filled with corn on the back, a model he could use to actually bury firefighters to the waist in corn and have them use the rescue tube to assist each other and learn how to perform a rescue.

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Eighteen Miesville volunteer firefighters attended Sanderson’s presentation where he explained that there were 574 agricultural fatalities in 2018, the latest year for which statistics are available. One factor for these deaths, he noted, is that agricultural workers are generally alone. Very often, in today’s economy, the spouse is away from the farm working so the family has health insurance, the kids are at school, and no one expects the farmer to come home until dinner. An accident victim could wait hours before anyone bothers to go looking.

Jeff Sanderfield from the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety, right, gives instructions on how to set up the rescue tube to members of the Miesville Fire Department. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
Jeff Sanderfield from the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety, right, gives instructions on how to set up the rescue tube to members of the Miesville Fire Department. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

Another factor is the amount of rain that fell in recent years, meaning that grain was often put into the bins wet and eventually crusted or froze. When the crusted grain sticks, farmers are tempted to enter the bin to break it loose, leading to them getting buried to the waist or deeper in grain avalanches.

Xavier Kopp volunteered to be the victim and is buried to the waist in a small corn bin hauled on the back of Jeff Sanderfield’s truck. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
Xavier Kopp volunteered to be the victim and is buried to the waist in a small corn bin hauled on the back of Jeff Sanderfield’s truck. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

“If you are going into a grain bin, have an attendant watching you to make sure you are safe,” Sanderfield said. “Even if you are buried only to the waist, you are not going to be able to get out.”

Sanderfield explained the steps in making a grain bin rescue and illustrated his talk with accounts of actual accidents and rescues performed by other rural fire departments. He also cited things that could go wrong during this type of rescue.

He then demonstrated how to slide the segments of the rescue tube together before taking the Miesville firefighters outside in the 23-degree night air.

Colleen Napper, right, holds the auger while Jeff Lindquist uses a drill to spin the auger and remove corn from inside the rescue tube. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
Colleen Napper, right, holds the auger while Jeff Lindquist uses a drill to spin the auger and remove corn from inside the rescue tube. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

The firefighters divided themselves into teams of four. One was the victim and was buried to the waist in the grain bin on Sanderfield’s truck. Two rescuers entered the grain bin while the fourth member handed in the pieces of the tube. The rescuers formed the tube around the victim and using hand scoops and a power auger, removed corn from inside the tube until the victim was able to take small steps and get free of the grain and climb up the rungs on the inside of the tube.

Latuff expressed satisfaction with how the training went and said having the rescue tube in the Miesville Fire Department is a big relief.

“If we had a call for a grain bin rescue, we would have to call the Dakota County team, and they are looking at at least a half hour by the time they get their gear and get here,” he said. “Having our own tube here, we gain a lot of time.”