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Rescue chute saves grain bin worker’s life after entrapment
Illinois Correspondent

MORRIS, Ill. — A metal grain bin rescue chute proved its worth March 14 in allowing a worker to walk away, unaided, from a commercial grain storage elevator – 31 minutes after he was trapped by 70,000 bushels of shelled corn.

The incident marked the first time for the chute, a new type of rescue equipment, to be used in the Grundy County area. Lt. Ron Marx, Morris Fire Department incident commander, reported Cody Bleuer, 24, of Minooka, Ill., was trapped to the shoulder in shelled corn. Bleuer had been freeing kernels stuck to the interior wall of the Elburn Co-op grain elevator at the Illinois River at Morris.
“We’re just glad it turned out to be a rescue and not a recovery,” Marx said March 18, the same day Bleuer was back on the job.
Marx said Bleuer freed himself down to his waist. Morris firefighters were called at 2:30 p.m. They found Bleuer trapped from the waist down in an upward position, conscious, alert and apparently uninjured.

“He was doing routine work when some of the grain fell. It was originally up to his shoulders, but he was able to dig himself out to his waist. He could not dig himself out any further, so 911 was called,” Marx said.

The grain elevator was about one-third full. Employees were augering the grain from the bin at the time. The auger passes through the bottom center of the elevator. When the auger is in motion, it creates a “V” pattern in which the grain is higher toward the outer walls of the bin than the center. This pattern stopped the free flow of grain into the auger.

“So, they had to go into the bin and start scraping the grain down to get it moving again,” Marx said. “They opened a side hatch. Bleuer went in and started scraping the grain down to get it flowing into the auger again.”

He was working in a sitting position when a large chunk of corn kernels slid down and buried him up to his chest for a few seconds before he freed his upper body. Marx said Bleuer never lost consciousness. He was within 5 feet of the side hatch, which was about 5 feet high and 6 feet wide.

“We made a quick assessment on getting this guy out that extra 5 feet,” the lieutenant said. “Fortunately, the grain was not a severe threat to the rescuers from this point on. Basically, from the onset, when he was actually trapped in the corn until he walked out under his own power, was 31 minutes. It turned out very well.”

Marx said an interesting twist to the incident was Elburn Co-op’s participation about a year ago in the purchase of rescue chutes for use in emergencies inside grain bins. The fire departments at Mazon and Coal City in Grundy County also received grain rescue devices.

“The chutes consist of four sections of curved metal that form a tube when fastened together,” he said. “You can put two, three or four sections together and have a large, intermediate or small tube. You work the sections around the person, lash them together, then suck the grain out from the space between the tube and the victim to enable him to get out.”

The tube worked very well in the Elburn incident, Marx said. 
“When you have that much grain in a structure that size, when you scoop out one shovelful, two more shovelsful fill in,” he explained. “Without the chute, you’re working three and four and five times harder than if you take the time to build the chute around the person, lash it together, work it down into the grain and vacuum out the grain inside it. Then you’re done.

“There’s no way the corn can continue to go in the chute. (Bleuer) literally walked out of the elevator under his own power. We transported him to Morris Hospital, just in case.”

Marx emphasized the rescuers were glad the incident turned out to be a rescue and not a recovery. “The chute worked very, very well. It probably made a difference of a half-hour to an hour trying to get him out. He was 5 feet from being able to free himself – 5 feet from the door. There wasn’t that much corn around him, he just couldn’t get himself out.”

Obviously, he said, rescuers have to take a risk. Their concern here was whether the corn would continue to fall as they freed Bleuer. But the risk, they thought, was minimal compared to the outcome.” It just worked out great,” Marx said.

Elburn Co-op and nearby Archer Daniels Midland grain elevator employees assisted in the rescue. “They worked the vacuum,” Marx said. “They had a John Deere tractor offloading the grain onto a truck. They did a great job, with everybody working together.”
The Coal City Fire Department and LyondellBasell Chemical Co. rescue team also assisted at the scene, along with the Comprehensive Agricultural Rescue Trailer team, which specializes in incidents of this kind.