4-H to the rescue

LAKE?BENTON – When an employee of the Hendricks Farm Elevator became trapped in a grain bin earlier this month, he very likely owed his life to the efforts of a 16-year-old 4-H member.

The employee was extracted with the help of a rescue tube, a set of curved light steel plates with steps to drive them into grain, which lock together to form a tube that relieves the pressure on an entrapped victim.

Delbert Willert, who lives on his family’s farm outside of Lake Benton, started a 4-H project to raise the money to buy grain rescue tubes and pay for the training for all five fire departments in Lincoln County.

“About a year and a half ago, Delbert was doing that reading about grain accidents,” said Darlene Willert, Delbert Willert’s grandmother and a leader in the Verdi Go Getters 4-H chapter. “He talked to his dad, and that got the whole family going on it, and it took off from there.”

Delbert Willert was looking through a magazine during Farm Safety Week with an article about the rescue tube, a device to rescue farm workers entrapped in grain elevators.

Without prompt rescue, about half the time victims die from asphyxiation and the crushing weight of the grain.

“I thought it was a good idea if the Lake Benton Fire Department had one,” Delbert Willert said. “A lot of the victims are teens who help on the farm, and I thought about how I’d feel if it was my brother.”

Delbert Willert brought the idea up at 4-H and started contacting businesses and service clubs in the area. Response was enthusiastic and spread from Lake Benton to the whole of Lincoln County.

“He attended the training meetings, and he gave us updates on the project,” Darlene Willert said. “That’s part of the 4-H think, to get up and speak in front of people.”

Fellow 4-H members spread the word and helped publicize the training meeting. All in all, they raised $6,000 apiece for a rescue tube for the fire departments of Lake Benton, Ivanhoe, Hendricks, Tyler and Arco, plus $1,500 to bring the trainers from Detroit last July.

According to a report by the Purdue University Agricultural Safety and Health Program, the number of incidents of farm workers trapped in grain has been increasing in the past 20 years, with a record high in 2011 of 51 individuals, half of whom died.