BARGERSVILLE — A local fire department and community members are teaming up to raise awareness and funds to help Hoosiers farmers be safer on the job.
While accidents and fatalities in grain bins are rare, Bargersville Deputy Fire Chief Mike Pruitt says there are, on average, 35-40 grain bin accidents across the country per year and the department trains to be ready in the event of a disaster.
"We have our specialized equipment. We basically build a tube around the individual that is trapped and once we get that tube in place around them, if they are still on the surface, then we have the ability to suck grain out or scoop grain out with coffee cans until we clear that grain around their chest," says Pruitt. "If they are submerged below the surface and we can no longer see them, then we take a more aggressive approach to opening up the sides of the grain bin to let the corn flow outward."
The last grain bin fatality in Johnson County happened back in 2007 on a farm in southeast Bargersville.
"The corn had gotten out of condition, and we all knew it," says Brent Henderson, a lifelong farmer. "My brother, my nephew and I took turns, two of us to go up in the bin, break up anything that was bad. My dad wanted to be involved. And we told him he didn't need to go up there."
Henderson says his father, Dick Henderson, was an 80-year-old farmer who after knee surgery, felt more like a 50-year-old than an elderly man.
At some point, Dick went up in the grain bin alone to access the issue with the corn getting clogged.
On Aug. 27, 2007, Bargersville Fire, surrounding departments and neighbors rushed to the Henderson family farm when they realized Dick was missing and possibly trapped inside the grain bin. One neighbor said they kept digging and digging hoping to get him out, but Dick Henderson's body was later recovered from the bottom of that grain bin.
"I would grieve in the morning going to the field and coming home that night, but the rest of the time you are on," says Brent reflecting on getting right back to work after his father's passing. And now, he alongside longtime friend Pruitt are taking action to prevent these types of tragedies.
"We realized that the fire departments at that time, weren't up on grain bin rescues," says Brent. Since that day, the department has worked to purchase equipment for these rescue operations and they even train on a grain bin simulator off Smokey Row Road and firefighters travel to area farms to get real-world experience.
And this July, the department is working to raise awareness and funds for this initiative by showing the feature film, "Silo" at the Historic Artcraft Theatre in downtown Franklin. The film will premiere on Sunday, Jul. 11 at 2 p.m.
"A lot of times people that don't live in the rural community don't understand why a framer would even go inside that grain bin," says Pruitt. "But it does happen. And we understand why they go in there. And many of them have done it for years. This has been a part of their life. They get in. They work in that grain bin. But it just takes that one time."
Pruitt says the department trains at the facility off Smokey Row Road using donated corn.
Farm grain bins can vary in size and can hold anything from 1 thousand bushels to bigger commercial farms with 2 million bushels. Farms with less than 10 employees don't fall under the same safety standards as bigger farms under OSHA guidelines, but they see accidents happen at farms of all sizes.
Pruitt says in an accident, if the person is below the grain then, unfortunately, their chance of survival decreases dramatically.
"If they are submerged below the surface and we can no longer see them, then we take a more aggressive approach to opening up the sides of the grain bin to let the corn flow outward," says Pruitt. "Once you've sunk down in the grain, you just can't breathe anymore. At that point, there's no self-rescue."
The film, "Silo," is inspired by true events and depicts a grain bin tragedy, and also shows how rural communities come together.
Both Pruitt and Henderson say they hope the Johnson County community and surrounding communities will support this effort to learn more about these grain bin accidents and raise funds for more rescue equipment.
Tickets will be available soon through the Historic Artcraft Theatre and Bargersville fire department and they are also still looking for sponsors for the event.
Not only can the Bargersville Fire Department train at this facility and have the equipment available for their own use, but this effort supports neighboring communities and the region as a whole.
Gov. Eric Holcomb, R-Indiana, declared the third week of February as "Grain Bin Safety Awareness Week" in Indiana.