Iowa Public Television


Rural EMTs Get Specialized Training

posted on November 11, 2005

When farmers or ranchers refer to "risk management" they're usually talking to some sort of financial strategy. But agriculture can be a risky proposition in more ways than one. In fact, in can be downright dangerous... especially to young people.

According to the Labor Department, agriculture accounted for 42 percent of all work-related fatalities of young workers between 1992 and 2000. Among workers ages 15-to-17, the risk of fatal injury is four times greater in agriculture than in other professions.

Too often, those responding to rural emergencies lack any formal training on farm chemicals or equipment. But an innovative program is helping to teach first responders the specifics of rural emergencies. David Miller explains.


Rural EMTs Get Specialized Training

No one has to tell farmers that they work in a dangerous place. Tractor rollovers, methane gas buildups, or just slipping in the feedlot are all real dangers. But when accidents occur, the firefighters and emergency medical technicians who come to the scene may not be aware of these dangers.

Russ Heggen, Farmedic instructor: "They don't realize the true hazards there are out in agricultural, the size of equipment, the confined space and stuff."

Russ Heggen, is one of 200 instructors who teach Farmedic, a unique training program that instructs emergency personnel how to remain safe and still perform an effective rescue in a farm environment. The program, which began as a seminar for the Henrietta, New York Fire Department in 1981, and is now administrated by Cornell University, has become the training program for managing on-farm accidents in the U.S. and Canada.

Russ Heggen, Farmedic instructor: "A farm can seem like such an idyllic, beautiful place, grandma's farm, grandpa's farm, whatever you want to call it. But in reality there are some severe dangers out there. Things are fine as long as they are handled correctly but when things go wrong it can be terrible dangerous. EMS personnel, fire personnel they are generally from the city and that is not an insult it's just the way, the nature of the beast. And they get out involved in this and they can get themselves in trouble in a hurry."

Heggen, who was the victim of a power-take-off shaft accident at a young age, has 14 years experience as an EMT and has been teaching the two-day Farmedic course for the past 10 years. Today's class is being held in the courthouse in Chamberlain, South Dakota. The students, all of whom have either firefighter or EMT training, will spend the next two days learning about the dangers that exist on the farm. Besides a healthy dose of classroom instruction, there will be on-farm tours, farm visits and hands-on training.

Roberta Spann, Gregory, SD, EMT: "I grew up on a farm, you know, I never even thought of it as a child growing up on a farm how many different places could be hazardous to your health."

Kristene Rancour, EMT, Chamberlain, SD: "Basically I don't know much about farms, I never grew up on a farm, never seen any kind of equipment that is on a farm and living in a rural area the chances of me getting called out to a farm accident are pretty high."

After completing a 75 question test, these students will be among the more than 28,000 people that have become Farmedic certified over the past 24 years.

Part of Heggen's mission is to help these students properly assess an accident scene, implement an appropriate action plan, and, in turn, make a rescue that keeps both emergency personnel safe and gets the victim to the hospital.

Nationwide, statistics for farm mishaps are rarely kept but in 2003 the National Safety Council estimated there were 110,000 accidents resulting in disabling injuries and 790 fatalities. More than half of the deaths were the result of tractor rollovers.

The most critical period after an accident for emergency personnel is, the first hour, what is commonly referred to as the "golden hour." During this time, rescue personnel hope to find those who are injured and transport them to the nearest hospital. Because farmers can be injured in the first few minutes of work but not be missed for several hours Farmedic alters the parameters of the "golden hour". Heggen tells his students that once they get the call to start the clock as if the accident had just happened.

Russ Heggen, Farmedic instructor: "...number one finding them can be a problem...You get called to an ag rescue it might be at the back of the south forty behind Herb's place. Now you have to go off road and get there depending on weather conditions and stuff. It can take a while, you may not get back there with rescue equipment. You may need to find tractors or something to haul your equipment back there."

Farmedic students soon discover that the standard techniques for accidents in the city may no longer apply. They learn that disassembly may be a better method of rescuing someone entangled in a power takeoff shaft, the jaws-of-life may not cut a support on a combine because the metal is thicker than on most automobiles, a rescue inside a manure pit must include putting on a self-contained breathing apparatus, and a local elevator fire has to include assessment of what chemicals and fuels are likely to be on the premises.

Heggen also cautions against letting down your guard even in town. An accident between a pickup truck and a passenger car could contain hidden dangers, especially if the pick-up is transporting farm chemicals.

Russ Heggen, Farmedic instructor: "As you go through this class yes we talk about things we see every day over and over and over. And then you bring it into the agricultural world and it's not just agriculture, it's ag industry in town and you start realizing the size of equipment, the amount of chemicals and petroleum products used and you start making them aware in the confined spaces that you go running into this you can get killed real quick, if you don't go into a scene with your eyes wide open."

When the class is finished, Farmedic students are more aware of the various hazards that exist on the farm and are more prepared to handle accidents anywhere from behind the farm gate to the point where farm and city meet.

Kristene Rancour, EMT, Missouri Valley Ambulance, Chamberlain, SD: "I learned the different types of grain bins, the tractors, all that stuff and I think it's really been an advantage towards me taking the class to be able to know when I go on scene what to look for."

Randy Juhnke, Firefighter/EMT Chamberlain, SD: "This is a farming community and, you know, I mean it's a very dangerous profession. It's one of the highest possibilities of accidents. We need to know how to get people out and the best way to service, or the best way to serve them to get them out of the accident the best way we can, the safest way we can and get them the best possible treatment we can right away."

For Market to Market, I'm David Miller.


Tags: agriculture health care medicine news rural