Ellis County is one of two counties in Kansas being awarded equipment to rescue victims sinking and trapped in a farm silo grain.


The award is from Ohio-based Nationwide Insurance, a Fortune 500 company with a national program aimed at stopping grain bin deaths.


Darin Myers, Ellis County Rural Fire Department chief and emergency services manager, said the two new pieces of equipment will replace the department’s old set, which is about a dozen years old.


Some 30 local firefighters will use the new equipment, Myers said. It will be housed on the Ellis County Regional Rescue Trailer at the Hays Fire Department.


The trailer goes out as needed to Ellis and 17 other northwest Kansas counties, extending west to the Colorado border and north to Nebraska, as well as Russell, Ness and Rush counties, he said.


Nationwide is sending a couple pieces of equipment, a cofferdam and an auger encased in a protective tube, said Myers, who applied for the grant earlier this year.


"The cofferdam is like a sleeve you put together to build a dam between the victim and the grain and encapsulate them in a tube that is open at the top," Myers said. "Then there’s a protective grain auger, so then you can slide that auger tube inside the cofferdam, where the patient is at, and the protective auger will start augering the grain up out of the tube away from the patient."


Years ago, rescue teams used shop vacs and buckets to get victims out of grain bins, he said, as well as drilled holes in the bin to allow the grain to pour out.


"You can’t just pull a patient out of the grain, it’s just not safe for the patient," Myers said. "Plus it’s also impossible to have that much force pulled on the body to get the patient out."


Later, hand cranked augers came into use. The new Nationwide equipment is battery powered to remove the grain faster.


"With grain, you just sink and sink and the more you move the farther that you go down, depending on what kind of grain you’re entrapped in," Myers said. "So that auger will remove the grain out of the cofferdam, and the more you remove, the patient becomes freer. Once you get down to about your thighs or knees, the victim is able to move enough to work their way out of the grain."


Because the auger is encased in a tube, it doesn’t touch or endanger the patient.


"As the grain collapses down in there, the auger pulls it up out of there," Myers said.


Delivery of the new equipment depends on the coronavirus, said Bethany Eippert, spokeswoman for Nationwide.


"We do not yet have specific timing determined for this delivery to Ellis County Fire Department," Eippert said in an email. "We’re working to schedule and execute deliveries and training throughout 2020, as COVID-19 allows."


The total value of the award is $5,000, said Eippert. The grain rescue tube costs about $2,500, and training is another $2,500.


Nationwide this year got 1,006 applications for the equipment, which it awarded to 41 departments around the country. That’s the most ever awarded since Nationwide started its grain bin safety program in 2014, the company said in a news release. In Kansas, Burlingame/Osage County Fire District No. 6 was also awarded the equipment.


The idea is to stop the increasing number of deaths among farmers and others who work around grain bins and silos, according to Brad Liggett, president of Nationwide Agribusiness, in the release.


"It’s as important as ever to be following proper safety precautions when entering a bin," said Liggett. "Our goal is to continue these efforts until we can ensure every rural fire department has access to these critical rescue resources."


So far they’ve distributed 152 nationwide.


Myers said area firefighters have trained on grain rescue equipment previously, through a grain bin rescue prop at the Kansas Fire and Rescue Training Institute in Lawrence.


Nationwide provides its own training prop, which the Ellis County firefighters and others will use when the equipment arrives.


"We’ll have to hopefully work with a local co-op to get some grain to fill up the auger so we can do the training in a simulated environment," Myers said.


They’ll also need corrugated tin typical of a silo.


"We’ll be looking for somebody to donate that so we can actually get our saws out to cut the proper holes to relieve pressure," he said. "That way if we have to cut a silo to empty the grain out of it, we can practice that, as well."