Grain Bin Rescuers

South Dakota Wheat Growers High Angle Rope Rescue teams can get victims down from the top of grain bins.

Published on: Dec 6, 2013

By Lon Tonneson and Paula Mohr

Who are you going to call when you have to rescue someone from the top of a grain bin or grain elevator?

Well, you are probably going to call your local ambulance service or fire department.

And they are probably going to call a South Dakota Wheat Growers' high-angle rope rescue team.

SDWG – which operates grain terminals in South Dakota and North Dakota – have four high angle rope safety teams that have been certified by the Safety Training and Rescue Association, a nonprofit organization of full-time firefighters based in Michigan. Collectively, the teams have spent 11,000 hours per year receiving training and doing practice drills. They also give demonstrations on high angle rope rescue and invite local fire department personnel to take part in rope rescue drills.

Members of one of the South Dakota Wheat Growers high-angle rescue teams are (left to right): Beth Locken, Jim Brandner, Matt Huls, Tom Waletich and Jeremy Nelson; (kneeling) Mike Salathe. Photo: South Dakota Wheat Growers
Members of one of the South Dakota Wheat Growers' high-angle rescue teams are (left to right): Beth Locken, Jim Brandner, Matt Huls, Tom Waletich and Jeremy Nelson; (kneeling) Mike Salathe. Photo: South Dakota Wheat Growers

"If we had to get someone off the top of an elevator, we can rig up a lowering system using rescue ropes and get the person down safely," says Tom Waletich, SDWG's regional Environmental, Health and Safety specialist, based in Aberdeen, S.D.

They train for situations in a victim has a heart attack or falls while climbing a bin or working on the top of a bin system.

In addition to high angle rope rescues, SDWG employees have given safety presentations at schools and community events on grain elevator explosions.

"SDWG's staff built an explosion simulator that actually shows how powerful grain dust explosions are," Waletich says. "The simulator has two chambers and includes an ignition source for the dust to ignite once it is suspended in the air. The 'boom' and fire ball that results from the explosion simulator is a real eye opener for all. It really gets the point across on how deadly grain dust can be."

They also have equipment to demonstrate what it's like to be trapped in a grain bin. The portable simulator is a popular attraction at farm shows and fairs. They use it to train firefighters and emergency medical technicians on how to use special equipment to rescue someone buried in grain.