Mission at Meadowland

Firefighters and rescue personnel from three towns responded to Meadowland Farmers Co-op just outside of Walnut Grove on Tuesday after a Meadowland employee became trapped in a grain shed. Photos / Per Peterson

Firefighters, ambulance crews and others worked valiantly Tuesday morning to rescue a Meadowland Farmers Co-op employee entrapped in a grain shed

By Per Peterson

Tracy firefighter Joe Pallansch had a face full of grain residue to clean off after working with the rescue mission their colleagues at Meadowland.

This is what they train for.

For years, area firefighters have taken part in extensive grain bin rescue training. On Tuesday morning, just east of Walnut Grove, that training paid off, even though this incident offered challenges they’ve never encountered.

Firefighters from Walnut Grove, Tracy and Lamberton teamed up to free a Meadowland Farmers Cooperative employee after he became trapped in a grain storage facility. The Tracy Fire Department got the page at 10:20 a.m., the ambulance shortly thereafter. Walnut Grove received the page about 10:17 a.m. and requested mutual aid.

The employee, whose name was not released Tuesday because of the uncertainty of his condition, was pulled from the corn shed about 11:20 a.m. — a little more than an hour after becoming entrapped.

Firefighters relentlessly scooped corn from the shed’s opening on the east side of the facility, while grain bin rescue equipment was brought in to help free the employee. Also used were numerous pieces of plywood that were used to build two walls around the victim to prevent grain from continuing to surround the victim. The size of the facility offered a unique challenge to firefighters, who typically train in smaller areas.

“There is more grain coming at you,” Tracy Fire Chief Dale Johnson III said of working in a larger structure.

“There was a big wall (of grain) that we were trying to stop,” Walnut Grove Fire Chief Andy Foster said. “Once you start to move that stuff, that wall is gonna want to come down — there’s a lot of pressure in there.”

Tracy Assistant Fire Chief Mike Erbes, who is also a farmer, equates working with grain to shoveling water.

“It’s a lot faster pace than everything you train for,” he said. “Most rescues, you prepare for are in a bin, which is a tunnel — well, we didn’t have that, we had a wall. It makes you think about everything differently.”

Johnson and Erbes estimated the facility was about three-quarters full, with about 3 million bushels of grain inside.

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.