An Oakfield man is extremely fortunate that he was not seriously injured or worse after getting stuck inside a massive silo filled with corn silage on Lockport Road in Oakfield today.
Quick thinking and fast action by the property owner's wife and farmworkers helped to stabilize the man until rescuers and their equipment arrived.
According to Oakfield Second Assistant Fire Chief Pete Scheiber, the man was inside the silo trying to unplug an area, when he became trapped up to his knees. While trying to get free from what amounts to quicksand, he soon found himself waist deep in kernals.
Seven people went inside the bin and put their training for this kind of scenario to the test. In addition to the homeowner's wife, they included Gary Patnode, Christine Marinaccio, Mark Holley, Michael Pfendler, Ryan Hart and Mark Mikolajczyk.
They used a rope and other tools to stabilize him and keep him from sinking down further then called 9-1-1 at 11:52 a.m.
Town of Batavia fire brought its ladder truck to facilitate "a high point of entry"; Elba's crew brought in special grain bin rescue equipment and a (sweep) auger. The grain bin rescue tools were bought over the last couple of years by area farms for situations just like today's. (Pavilion is the other Genesee County fire company that has the same capability.)
Also responding were: Genesee County Sheriff's deputies; NYS Police; county Office of Emergency Management coordinators; and Mercy EMS; Alabama stood by for Oakfield fire and Barre stood by for Elba.
A bulky four-panel "rescue tube" was assembled and placed around the person trapped. The corn inside it is removed, making an air space so the victim can be raised up and out.
It's time-consuming and the equipment is cumbersome, said Elba Fire Chief Michael Heale, but you try to work as quickly as possible. Dangers include hypothermia if it's cold outside, loss of blood circulation to limbs and paralysis, and death by suffocation.
"If you see us cutting into metal and removing grain below, that's not a good sign," said Tim Yaeger, county Emergency Management coordinator. "It means we need to recover a body. There are a number fatalities nationwide from this every year."
The farm employee in this case, after being extricated from the dry corn, was able to climb down a ladder on his own power, still with his cowboy hat on, and walk to a waiting ambulance for evaluation.
Scheiber said. "I'm very, very happy. ... These guys did an awesome, awesome job."
They also heaped praised on neighboring communities, even outside the county, and their willingness to pitch in.
"In this day and age, especially daytime, they're always there for us," Heale said. "Like they say, 'There's no i in team.' We do a very good job around here."
Above, volunteer firemen Michael Pfendler and Ryan Hart in Elba's trailer containing the grain bin rescue panels and equipment.
Photo by Howard Owens, who also contributed to the story.