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Feature film 'SILO' urges farmers to think twice before getting in that grain bin

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Jack Difalco stars as Cody Rose in SILO, a film where he gets entrapped in a grain bin accident and his small town must come to the rescue.

The 2019 feature film 'SILO,' a movie about a teen boy who gets trapped in a grain bin, echoes the warnings of many ag health and safety professionals not to risk your life in a grain bin.

The film is based on real events and is the first feature film about a grain entrapment. 'SILO' is actually a dramatic reenactment of the events referenced in 'Silo: Edge of the Real World,' a short documentary about how the deaths of two teens and the hospitalization of a third after a 2010 grain bin accident affected a small town in northern Illinois. Both films are directed by filmmaker Marshall Josh Burnette.

'SILO' stars Jack Difalco as Cody Rose, a teen who works on a farm, who gets entrapped in a grain bin for several hours awaiting rescue from the people of his small town, who also have to overcome adversity from each other. Also starring are Jim Parrack as Junior, Jill Paice as Val, Jeremy Holm as Frank, Danny Ramirez as Lucha and Chris Ellis as Mr. Adler.

A Q&A panel followed the screening, which featured Mark Baker, owner of first ag rescue training company Stateline Farm Rescue; Cheryl Skjolaas, an ag safety and health specialist from UW-Madison; Brad Pecora, a safety manager at United Cooperative; and Pat O’Brien, a Dane County farmer and entrapment survivor.

Rescue workers push a stretcher into a hole cut in a Hughes County grain bin where a man became entrapped in March. After six hours, the man was safely removed from the bin.

O'Brien said the film evoked many memories and feelings from when he was rescued during a grain bin accident, where he was nearly engulfed for three hours. He said his community was not prepared for an accident like his because his town's first responders had no equipment, like coffer dams or grain tubes, that would be able to rescue him without calling for help from other towns. He said the only way he was rescued was by a rope wrapped around his upper body that was used to pull him up out of the corn while holes were cut in the bin and bodyboards were used to keep the corn at bay.

"I don't know how to describe the feeling, I was almost paranoid from being trapped that long. It almost felt like they were cutting into my body as the bin was being cut around me," O'Brien said. "(It) all came rushing back to me, this whole experience, to witness what this guy went through. And it was very emotional for me."

The film claimed that 1,200 people have died in grain entrapments since 1964, with over 20% of victims being teen boys. Baker said accidents are often caused by complacency, comparing it to getting into a car without your seat belt on, because we don't easily recognize the danger of an action we perform many times a day. Skjolaas also mentioned that older generations aren't used to taking as many precautions.

"When I was a kid growing up on a farm, as we started having on-the-farm storage, they were smaller grain bins than we were talking about. I fear an upright silo more than I fear the grain bins," Skjolaas said. "But as our bins have increased in size, we've done more on-farm storage. We were used to going in those 5,000-bushel bins – not (scared) that something could happen to somebody."

Pecora also said that the generational divide can be fixed with proper communication. He said older farming generations should be taught to understand why new safety regulations are important and younger generations should understand that they are less immune to accidents than they may think. Baker added that it's easy to forget how dangerous the job really is and that we need proper training to address accidents.

"We have to reassure everybody on the farm how dangerous these things are, and how fast this grain moves, and why," Baker said. "But ... all these coffer dams that everybody talks about that are getting in the hands of all these departments absolutely have no value unless they have good training."

Safety training that focused on use of harnesses and other equipment is held each year by experts at Purdue University who show farmers how to be safe in and around grain bins.

Skjolaas emphasized the need for "age-appropriate" tasks for young people, saying that even though many older folks grew up doing farm labor as children and teens, changes are necessary to ensure accidents like these never happen again. Pecora added that accountability is important for working in these conditions.

"I come from the commercial side of things, but it's disciplinary action, and there's not usually a second chance," Pecora said. "We got to talk to each other and hold each other accountable."

The film viewing comes on the heels of National Farm Safety and Health Week, which raises awareness for various safety causes in agriculture – one of the most dangerous industries in the country. The screening was by the Dane County Farm Bureau and additionally sponsored by Grinnell Mutual, University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Agricultural Safety & Health, Rural Mutual Insurance and United Cooperative. While the film will not be released commercially, you can license a screening for your organization for $2,500.

The panelists and audience also provided many resources for entrapment rescue training and equipment for first responders. You can nominate your local fire department to win a free grain tube between Jan. 1 and Apr. 30 every year through Nationwide Insurance. United Cooperative also hosts a grain bin safety course for farmers and first responders every summer. Stateline Farm Rescue also offers a grain rescue simulator for training purposes. And UW-Madison's Center for Ag Safety and Health offers many resources to stay safe on the farm.