The North Bend Eagle


Grain engulfment rescue equipment now available

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 4/17/13

Engulfment, according to the dictionary means “to sweep over something, so as to surround or cover it completely."

Now imagine what “grain engulfment” might mean on to a farmer. In 2010, 51 grain entrapments were documented, according to Purdue University’s Agricultural Safety and Health Program, and more than half were fatal. Since not all engulfments are reported, the actual figure could be as much as 30 percent higher. This is the highest number of grain engulfments ever reported, with 70 percent of them occurring on farms.

Grain rescueBuried in corn, Jennifer Eckmann watches at North Bend rescue workers practice using rescue equipment.

The North Bend Fire Department has received two grain tube rescue kits to prepare for such engulfments. Donated by the Farm Credit Services of America (FCSA) Columbus office, a training session was held last week to show responders how this particular piece of equipment works.

The training session was held at Frontier Co-op in North Bend with the emergency responders from North Bend, Winslow, Schuyler and Morse Bluff there to learn how to use the rescue kits.

Craig Berg from Outstate Data in Elbow Creek, Minn., conducted the training.
Frontier Co-op provided a truck loaded with corn. EMTs Jennifer Eckmann, Scott Coufal and fire cadet Hope Maca, all from North Bend, volunteered to be the victims. After being strapped in a safety harness, corn was released from the bottom of the truck causing the victim to be engulfed in corn to their waist.

With Berg’s guidance, rescue workers placed the 5-foot tall, 18-inch wide aluminum panels around the victims. There are five panels per bag, each bag weighing 90 pounds. Two bags and ten panels were donated with the number of panels used depending on the size or position of the victim. After the circle was complete the panels were pounded deeper into the corn with a special slide hammer, also donated.

Corn was then removed from the tube by buckets until the victim was able to climb out (one panel has a ladder on the inside) or be pulled out.

“Originally it wasn’t too bad,” Eckmann said, “but when the tube was around you, the pressure built up, you can’t move. It was claustrophobic.”

Berg said that the rescue process has been done as quickly as a minute and 52 seconds.

“That was in a controlled situation” Berg added. “I have heard of it taking 25 minutes on a family farm where the guy was buried up to his chin.”

Throughout the demonstration Berg told stories of actual incidents, but stressed that each incident is unique and may require different uses of the tube.

Eric Lantis of Columbus, representing FCSA, said that the kits were purchased as part of FCSA’s desire to give back to the community in a beneficial way. One set was donated to the Humphrey Fire Department in addition to the set donated to North Bend.

“Since we are ag related, everyone knows how tragic (engulfments) can be,” Lantis said. “We hope the fire departments don’t ever have to use these, but it’s neat to know that it’s available.”

The grain rescue tubes were the idea of Berg’s parents, Dale and Cindy Ekdahl. Dale was an OSHA safety consultant and a large elevator he worked with was not happy with what was available. After two deaths in their county, the Ekdahls patented the tube and began manufacturing it. The Ekdahls’ tube is sold coast to coast, with almost 300 fire departments trained to use them. There are four other fire departments in Nebraska who have them. The tubes are also sold to large grain elevators.

“Ours is the only one patented due to the interlocking system,” Berg said.
The kits cost $2,200 for the two bags of five panels each and pounding hammer. For more information and pictures of the tubes visit the website

“Any time we can get new or updated equipment we are very appreciative for it,” North Bend fire chief Kevin Dubbs said. “As with all our equipment, we hope we never need to use it. Anything to help us better protect the area we serve is appreciated.”

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