"I don’t think anybody has ever had to call out their fire and rescue department because they did something smart."
With that statement, Brandon Moore, Young Farmer’s Director for the Alabama Farmers Federation, began Blount’s Farm Safety and Extrication Class for the area’s fire and rescue squads.
This year’s class, with close to 100 participants, was the biggest of the four events held every other year thus far.
Brandon has a unique perspective having grown up on a cotton, corn and soybean farm, and served on the Huntsville Fire and Rescue Squad and Hazmat Team, and later living and working in similar situations in South Alabama.
"No one goes out in the morning planning to have an accident," Brandon explained. "But accidents happen when you’ve been on the same machine for several hours. When you’re tired. When you start taking shortcuts. They happen not because you’re not careful, but because you sometimes just get caught up in the daily grind of your work."
Several of those in attendance serve on volunteer rescue squads, but must maintain the professional accreditation of their full-time counterparts. Many also have farms of their own so they took the information to heart on a more personal level as well.
While many think of farm accidents occurring with the huge combines and other harvesting equipment on display September 12th, Brandon noted many who farm part-time may tax their smaller equipment to try and do larger jobs, causing accidents.
Brandon cited farm fatality statistics showing: tractor accidents, 36 percent; other agricultural machines, 19 percent; animal handling, 5 percent; and tractor PLUS equipment, 55 percent.
Of tractor accidents, Brandon noted 51 percent are overturns, 26 percent are runovers and 4 percent are PTO entanglements.
Brandon said the idea for farm safety events began several years ago up north when a rescue squad was called when a man’s foot had been pulled into a combine, pulling his leg in up to his thigh.
The farmer was alert and talking when the rescue squads arrived. Squads took three hours to remove the man; but were saddened when he died at the two hour mark. Several squad members resigned following that tragedy, BUT their supervisor decided to turn bad into good and began a farm education series.
When a person is entangled in machinery, like legs trapped beneath a tractor or other machine steering wheel, his upper body may be experiencing high blood pressure while the lower extremities will have low blood pressure.
"You may need to wait until an EMT is on the scene before you start removing him, and then remove him in stages as the EMT has an IV begun and can monitor his or her blood pressure."
The same may hold true if a person is trapped underneath a tractor or other machinery.
"The patient may deteriorate rapidly after the tractor is removed…you may need to take it slow and steady."
Brandon stated in rural areas a tractor turnover may also involve a possible drowning if the tractor turns over even in a shallow ditch — noting only a few inches of water can drown a victim if trapped underneath.
PTOs, or Power Take Offs, "are dangerous pieces of equipment," Brandon noted. Often times, the victim’s hand, arm or leg can be slowly unwound from the PTO after the PTO is removed from the tractor.
Cutting the PTO with a torch will mean shielding the victim from the heat.
Auger entanglements can occur in grain bins, chicken houses and feed grinders.
While rescue squads responding to a wreck usually find themselves on a highway or at least a passable roadway, farm accidents can occur in really rural areas, across swampy or muddy fields, which may require portable equipment that can be carried on a four-wheel drive truck or four-wheeler, further complicating an already intensive situation.
But sometimes even when a tractor accident occurs in the middle of a well-populated area, not much can be done for the victim.
One fatality occurred on an "old family homeplace" which is now located inside a busy town. An older man was mowing on a bank when the tractor overturned.
In another area, a young girl was running across a lawn and was not seen by a family member mowing with a lawn tractor. That young girl lost a leg, but swift action by a local rescue squad stopped the massive bleeding in time to transport her to a Birmingham trauma center.
One accident involved a man who jumped off his tractor when he was attacked by yellow jackets and was run over by the mowing deck, taking his life, while another was a man who lost his leg, but lived after being caught in a combine.
In farm accidents, squads must be prepared for the unexpected: have proper cribbing (usually wood blocks and longer wooden planks stored in the fire halls which can be brought to the scene in a pickup truck), have alternate transportation to the scene if necessary and make sure there is an Incident Commander "who can be the eyes and ears of those on the scene, watching everything to make certain the squad on one side of the vehicle raising the vehicle is coordinated with the members on the other side treating the victim," Brandon explained.
Snead Ag’s Greg Payne and Miller Farms Co-owner Lance Miller worked in tandem with Brandon directing teams to many types of farm equipment, demonstrating what areas can be easily taken apart and what areas would be especially problematic.
Greg said in farm equipment, "There’s just not a one-size-fits-all mentality to any of it."
A Life Saver helicopter crew based in Gadsden and consisting of pilot Mike Haynes, Paramedic Don Wilson and Flight Trauma RN JoAnn Devaney, a Blount resident, then flew to the Miller Farm and answered questions about transporting farm accident victims.
Lance Miller and his wife Stephanie, partner with Lance’s aunt and uncle, Jimmy and Nell Miller, own the farm where the event was held.
Jimmy Miller has farmed "all his life," farming full-time since his 1964 graduation from Susan Moore High.
"I didn’t even go on my senior class trip," Jimmy said. "I was busy planting cotton."
Nephew Lance graduated from Susan Moore about four decades later and he and Stephanie then graduated from Jacksonville State University in the mid-2000s before beginning farming full-time with their uncle.
This year they’re farming 400 acres of cotton, 110 of peanuts (partnering with the Whitley Farms, another sponsor of the September 12th event), 100 of soybeans and 36 of corn.
Amy Burgess, an Alabama Cooperative Extensions System Regional Extension Agent, and Merry Buford, head of Blount’s Young Farmer’s Organization, helped coordinate the event. Other sponsors included the Blount Alfa Young Farmer’s Committee, Blount Alfa Farmer’s Federation. Blount Alfa Women’s Committee, Life Saver helicopter, and the Miller and Whitley Farms.
Blount Rescue Squads who attended included Snead, Pine Mountain, Straight Mountain, Holly Springs, Murphrees Valley, Ricetown, Mount High, Summit, Bangor, Blountsville and Remlap. Out-of-county squads included Altoona, Kimberly, Palmerdale and Pisgah. Several area farmers also attended.
Discussions continued during lunch around the Miller’s beautiful lake.
"This event makes you stop and think," Amy noted. "And that is the first line of defense in preventing accidents and in those treating the accidents once they happen."
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer living on a Blount County farm. She can be reached at www.suzysfarm.com.