Waubun firefighters now have the tools to prevent a farmer from sinking to his or her death in a grain elevator.

Any rescued farmer could thank a $3,400 matching grant from the farmer-owned CHS cooperative elevator in Mahnomen. The money was used recently by the Waubun Fire Department Relief Association to buy grain rescue tubes for the local volunteer fire department.

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The tubes come in sections and are pounded down around the person sinking into the grain.

"They come in pieces," said Waubun Fire Chief Paul Brehm. "You assemble the tubes around them so the grain can't continue to suffocate them."

Rescuers with ropes and harnesses get to the victim first and keep him alive until the tubes can be installed. They use buckets, farm shovels or whatever is handy to keep the grain away from his face until the tubes are put in, Brehm said.

The grain in the tube is then sucked out or bailed out "You want to get it down below their knees, then they can be pulled out or even crawl by themselves out with an internal ladder in the tube," said Steve Spaeth, safety specialist at CHS Mahnomen. It can talk just seconds to become trapped in grain, and those stuck in grain only up to their waist generally can't get out on their own, he said.

The tubes can't be pushed easily into the grain, he added. "You have to use a device, kind of like driving in fence posts," he said. The equipment works in any kind of grain, and could potentially be used in situations like a trench cave-in, Brehem said.

"We hope we never have to use it to save a life, but if we do, it's a great tool for the community to have," Brehm said.

The Waubun Fire Department has 20 volunteers on its roster, but is down to 18 members because of recent retirements and is looking for recruits.

Even before the grant, Waubun firefighters were familiar with the equipment-they were able to train with the grain rescue tubes last summer at the Mahnomen Elevator, using equipment owned by the Mahnomen Fire Department.

The drill involved the Mahnomen Health Center, Lifeflight, local ambulance crews and area fire departments. "A bunch of farmers also attended that night, showing them how dangerous it is to become entrapped," Brehm said.

More than 900 cases of grain entrapment have been reported nationally over the past 50 years, with a fatality rate of 62 percent, according to a 2014 Purdue University study.

There's a strong connection between grain stored wet and later grain bin entrapment. Wet grain tends to crust over on the top and sides, leading to farmers having to unjam it. The 2009 corn crop, for example, went into storage relatively wet; and there was a record number of entrapments in 2010.

And it's not just the dangerous pockets that can form under crusted grain at the top of a bin. Farmers shouldn't underestimate the danger in grain piled up along bin walls. A shovelful of grain shifted at the base can cause an avalanche that can bury them. Wet grain at the top of the pile can create a mass that is quick to collapse.

"Safety is one of our top priorities at CHS," said James Hardy, general manager. "We are always looking for ways to keep our employees, farmers and communities safe. We know the Waubun Fire Department shares that same commitment, as our first responders put in many hours of training. We are proud to help in their efforts to have the right equipment in place for when emergencies happen."