Article

Farm emergency action plan

Creating a comprehensive farm emergency action plan can help first responders react to farm emergencies efficiently and safely.

Develop and implement a Farm Emergency Action plan

A fire department was dispatched to a local farm last summer on report of a farm worker buried up to his chest in a grain bin. While responding to the scene, the fire company’s chief requested mutual aid from a neighboring company.  

When they pulled onto the scene, the chief knew where to stage incoming trucks and personnel and opened his farm pre-plan notebook to locate the farm’s hazard-assessment map. The map identified the exact location of the bin, its electrical lockout box and other important structures and buildings.

The speed and efficiency of the rescue operation freed the worker from the bin with only minor injuries.   

The fire chief credits this in part to a pre-plan, including a hazard-assessment map of the farm, which was created following a tour of the farm several months earlier. During the tour, the chief realized his department may have to respond to an entrapment, so he arranged for his department to receive grain bin rescue training.   

When a worker becomes trapped in a grain bin, time is of the essence. First responders must have the proper training, access to the right equipment and an understanding of grain bin hazards to perform a successful bin rescue.

Help save lives in your community. Nominate your fire department to win a grain bin rescue tube.

Pre-planning

Developing and implementing a comprehensive farm emergency action plan begins with working with your local fire department or emergency response team to develop a pre-plan for your farm. Invite them to walk your farm to gather and record important information that could be critical for making life-saving decisions at an incident, such a grain bin entrapment, fire or natural disaster.

A well-established pre-plan can help avoid chaos and confusion that often accompanies farm emergencies – especially when emergency responders are unfamiliar with a property and its unique hazards.

Pre-planning allows emergency responders to become familiar with:

  • The farm’s physical layout, including buildings and other structures (e.g., grain bins)
  • Hazardous chemicals (e.g., pesticides, anhydrous ammonia) and equipment (e.g., augers, PTOs)
  • Locations where employees would be located if an emergency occurred
  • Important contacts, including daytime and nighttime contact information
  • How utilities (e.g., electric, gas and water) can be controlled
  • Evacuation plans, security, etc.
  • Special needs and other concerns
  • Emergency responder limitations

Pre-planning is something fire departments normally do for high-value, high-occupancy businesses, such as hospitals, schools, manufacturing plants and chemical companies – not farms. So you’ll have to make the first call and be diligent in your request for their visit.

Complete these steps prior to their visit: 

  • Download an aerial map of your farm. Plot and number all buildings and structures (silos, bins, tanks, etc.).  
  • Describe each building’s use. For example, Structure #1 is a 20’ x 60’ conventional silo, while Structure #2 is a 60,000 bu grain bin.  
  • Develop a map key or legend. Start by adding letters to the map marking important locations.  For example, mark an (E) on each building at the location of the main electric shut off. In the corner of the map or on a separate sheet, define what (E) stands for: Electric Shut Off. Do the same for Gas (G), Pesticides (P), Fertilizers (F), etc.
  • List important names and contact information. This may include principal owners, managers, etc., and daytime and nighttime phone numbers.  
  • Contact your local fire department. Once you’ve completed steps 1 - 4, invite your local fire department to walk your farm and show them what you have developed. A good fire chief will take this information and expand on it. Ideally 3-4 key personnel will tour your farm to gain a better understanding of where things are, where employees and family members will be located during an emergency and how various emergencies will be handled.

Even in rural communities, emergency responders can lack knowledge, training and equipment to effectively manage farm emergencies. Consider asking the following questions when walking your farm:

  • Are you trained to rescue someone trapped in a silo, grain bin or bulk tank? Emergency responders follow strict guidelines when it comes to confined-space rescues and not all responders are trained in this type of rescue. They should know if the potential for such a rescue exists, so they can identify the necessary resources to call to assist with the rescue.
  • Do you have access to a grain bin rescue tube? The chances of surviving a grain bin entrapment are greatly increased if there’s a rescue tube available to fire departments nearby.    
  • Do you know how to operate/shut off tractors, Power Take-Offs (PTOs), augers and other farm equipment? Grain bin hazards aren’t limited to entrapment or engulfment. Other, equally-hazardous situations include PTOs, augers, fires and explosions. 
  • How would you manage a fire in a silo or grain bin? If they suggest flooding the silo or bin with water or foam, you should be quick to suggest they do some research. 

Farm Emergency Action Planning

No matter how many farm employees you have, it’s always a good practice to have a written Emergency Action Plan (EAP) for your farm. Being prepared and having a written plan will be invaluable help when things are chaotic during a crisis.

The most important function of an EAP is preventing the need for you, employees and family members to make time-consuming decisions during a crisis. Your advanced preparations can help save lives and minimize damage.

A well-developed EAP also provides critical information to emergency responders, neighbors and the community. One of the best loss prevention measures for legal liability arising from emergency situations is developing and implementing an EAP.

Minimum requirements for an EAP

  1. Emergency escape procedures and emergency escape routes mapped out
  2. Procedures to be followed by those who will remain on the farm or ranch to operate critical functions while everyone else evacuates
  3. Procedures to account for each person after an emergency evacuation
  4. Best ways for reporting grain entrapments, fires or other emergencies
  5. Names and phone numbers of all persons who would need to be contacted in an emergency

Create your own EAP

Following the steps outlined in the emergency action plan for your farm can help you develop an effective EAP. The best plans are tailored to your specific operations. This will require time, thought and planning. Include employees and family members in the planning process to help identify other areas and considerations on your farm.

Be sure to provide copies of your EAP to everyone involved in your farming operations and review it at least twice a year. And be sure to discuss your plan with your local emergency responders.

This article was written in cooperation with Davis E. Hill, Pennsylvania State University.