Grain entrapment danger hits home in Clearwater County

Recent open house offered a chance for the public to learn more about the risks of grain entrapment

It’s often said that to encourage change, you need to lead by example.

And for the fire department in Clearwater County, it’s a premise that’s not only valued but also practised.

“Whenever we get an opportunity to educate and engage with the public as a fire department, we always take it because it is our one opportunity where we get to be proactive,” said Evan Stewart, assistant fire chief for the Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue Services, which serves 22,000 square kilometres in west-central Alberta.

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Much of the area consists of agricultural land, so one of the fire department’s latest public outreach campaigns focused on the risks of grain entrapment. This past summer, the fire department made use of the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association’s BeGrainSafe program. It provided firefighters with training on how to safely orchestrate a grain entrapment rescue using simulated situations in a controlled environment.

It was also an opportunity for public education.

“When it comes to grain entrapment, it is a high-risk, low-frequency occurrence where seconds and minutes count,” said Stewart. “It may not happen very often, but it is very high risk and the hazards are very real.”

Sadly, people in the area know all too well of the high risks associated with grain entrapment. In 2015, three young sisters — a 13-year-old and 11-year-old twins — from the area died when they became buried in canola seed.

“It hit our community pretty hard,” said Stewart. “It impacts our membership to this day because we have had to deal with the worst-case scenario. The (BeGrainSafe) program certainly helped to provide some of our members with some closure, as well as knowing that the department is taking those proactive steps to deal with those emergencies.”

The county approached the family of the three girls to ensure they would be comfortable with grain entrapment being put in the local public spotlight.

“The family was appreciative that the county, through the fire department, was being proactive and learning from a horrible tragedy,” he said.

While the BeGrainSafe training, which uses a mobile trailer to simulate an entrapment in flowing grain, was invaluable for the firefighters, Evan points out that the community outreach was equally important. The open house portion, which was held during a public market in Rocky Mountain House to optimize visibility, invited people to watch the firefighters practise rescue techniques and learn more about the risks of grain entrapment.

“We had hundreds of people attend and had very engaged members of the public asking great questions, saying that they were going to talk to their neighbours about (grain entrapment) because they hadn’t really realized the risks,” said Stewart.

Many people who saw the BeGrainSafe demonstration in Rocky Mountain House this summer “hadn’t really realized the risks,” said assistant fire chief Evan Stewart.
photo: Evan Stewart

Grain safety training and outreach will be an ongoing effort, he added. In addition to keeping a contingent of firefighters up to standards on grain rescue safety and equipment, the department will be looking to bring the BeGrainSafe program back in the near future to continue educating the community and change attitudes about grain safety.

“Encouraging a greater sense of safety in the local agriculture industry through education is definitely a priority for our fire department,” said Stewart, noting he has encouraged other fire departments serving farming communities to use the BeGrainSafe training.

The theme of this year’s Canadian Agricultural Safety Week, which runs March 10-16, is Safe & Strong Farms: Build an AgSafe Canada. For more information visit agsafetyweek.ca.

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