It was just an average day during harvest — and then there was a scream

Thanks to BeGrainSafe training, first responders were able to avert a tragedy

Firefighters use a silo kit and other items on hand to build a cofferdam around the 14-year-old girl trapped in grain.
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Grain entrapment happens quickly and is often fatal — but awareness and training can avert a tragedy.

That was the case on Nov. 4 in Leamington, Ont. when grain rescue training, the proper equipment, and teamwork all combined to save the life of a 14-year-old girl trapped in corn.

It was just a regular fall day in Canada’s tomato capital — which is also home to many corn and soybean farms — when a young teenager entered a gravity wagon filled with corn and quickly became entrapped.

“It was approximately 4 p.m. when a call for firefighter services came in. There had been an incident involving a gravity wagon and a young teenager,” said Mike Ciacelli, Leamington’s deputy fire chief. “She had been watching the corn unloading when she went in. As soon as she screamed, her family and the other workers knew she was in trouble.”

The people on site stopped the flowing corn and immediately called 911. When the call came in, Ciacelli said he immediately thought of his colleague, fire inspector Derrick Clark because Clark had just attended BeGrainSafe Firefighter Grain Rescue Training Course — a program developed by the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association.

“I called Derrick immediately,” recalled Ciacelli. “I knew he had taken the BeGrainSafe training, so I wanted his advice.

“I was harvesting corn at the time when Mike called,” said Clark. “And I knew that the best bet for a successful rescue was to secure the proper equipment to get her out safely.”

When Ciacelli arrived on the scene, the girl was mostly under the corn.

“All I could see were her eyes, her nose, and the tip of one of her elbows popping out of the corn.”

Firefighters use small pails to remove the corn from around the trapped girl. photo: Courtesy Mike Ciacelli

Someone suggested opening the door to get the corn moving again. However, after talking with Clark, Ciacelli knew this wasn’t an option.

“She was stable. EMS had managed to get her an airway, she was conscious, and a family member was pushing corn away from her face, so I knew we had the time to get the proper equipment there.”

A call went out to a neighbouring fire department, which had obtained a silo kit 10 or 12 years earlier but had never used it in “a live scenario,” said Ciacelli.

Clark suggested that while waiting for the silo kit to arrive, Leamington firefighters start to build a temporary cofferdam (a restraining wall) around the girl using what they had on hand to keep any more corn from flowing in on her.

“We started pulling boards and even old honey and fruit stand signs to use,” recalled Ciacelli.

When the Kingsville Fire Department’s technical rescue team arrived with the silo kit, they started building a cofferdam around her with their panels.

“She was up against the side of the grain cart,” says Ciacelli. “They could only do a half-moon shape around her. Because of the bars in the grain cart, the cofferdam panels weren’t exactly lining up. We ended up using the boards and signs to help fill the gaps.”

With a cofferdam in place, an aerial truck lit up the scene while firefighters used small pails to remove the corn from around the girl.

“All in all, 24 firefighters, four police officers, and two paramedics attended the scene. It was quite the light show,” said Ciacelli.

After about 45 minutes, firefighters removed enough corn to pull the girl out safely.

“I was amazed,” said Ciacelli. “She climbed down the ladder on her own. She went to the hospital, but she was fine. It was a good day.”

He now hopes more firefighters in the area take the BeGrainSafe training.

“I was happy to be able to call Derrick for his advice.”

“The training taught me how quickly grain entrapment happens,” added Clark. “Remaining calm, shutting down the equipment, and getting the rescue equipment can make all the difference.”

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