Being prepared for emergencies

Gloria Hafemeister
Now Media Group


We would all like to imagine we'd be heroes if danger would strike.

If there was an emergency, would you know what to do? Who would you call? If you were the victim, would your children or farm workers know who to call?

The real heroes during an emergency are the people who are prepared. Fire fighters, Emergency Medical Services, first responders and Emergency Medical Technicians have many hours of training. Still, emergencies are often unique, and farms and businesses can help to make their jobs easier, more effective and safer.

Matt Solymossy, Landmark Cooperative safety coordinator, said there is something to be learned from every accident and emergency. Being prepared can save lives.

'In any emergency, people first, property second,' he said.

Solymossy has extensive experience in safety and has worked in an ethanol plant. He is a certified safety specialist and worked as a safety consultant before joining the Landmark Cooperative.

Learn from experience

Solymossy described several real-life emergencies and what was learned from each.

The first situation was a propane gas truck explosion that thankfully did not claim any lives. Had the team of employees not had proper training, however, it could have been really disastrous.

'We learned how important it is to designate, in your emergency preparedness plan, to have two spots for employees to meet after something happens. Our first designated spot was the office, but it was destroyed in the explosion,' he said. 'We had a second spot determined, and employees gathered to make sure everyone was accounted for and to get further instruction.'

'It's important to have a plan to account for everyone on the premises. It makes a difference in how the fire department will respond.

'People should follow the same rules in their homes or farms. Have a plan.'

Grain leg explosion

A second example was a grain leg explosion that occurred at the Coop's Cottage Grove plant and resulted in one employee injury.

He said he learned the importance of being prepared to communicate with emergency responders about the presence of someone in the area of the explosion and about dealing with employee emotions and feelings when they witness the injury of a friend and co-worker.

Another example was a vehicle rollover that resulted in a dry fertilizer spill of the entire semi-load.

'We learned the importance of wearing a seatbelt,' he said. 'Employees are trained to do that. We also learned the importance of having local contractors identified ahead of time in the event they are needed. Because we had a plan, we were able to get equipment to the scene immediately to clean up the spill before it got wet and soaked into the ground.'

While 34 ton of material was spilled they were able to get it cleaned up quickly because of their pre-planning.

Solymossy also described an anhydrous ammonia spill.

'When these accidents occur, it's almost always hitch-pin failure,' he said. 'That results in a hose pulling out and emitting the material.'

He said it is important for employees to understand the importance of getting away from the tank when this occurs. Any whiff of the fumes from the ammonia can be deadly.

While instinct might suggest trying to close the valve to keep the gas from escaping, Solymossy said is a very dangerous thing and should not even be considered.

If the fumes are blowing toward an inhabited area, alert the residents immediately to evacuate.

In cases where the gasses have emitted from a spilled tank, leaves have been burned off nearby trees and birds in the vicinity have been found dead on the ground.

When a tank tips over or a hose pops out, emitting the gas, the first thing to do is call 911. If a spill occurs, it is the farmer's responsibility to call EPA to notify them of the spill, as well as the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. If a liquid spills, the clean-up becomes more intense than when it is a gas. It will also involve removing any saturated soil and then doing soil tests to check for nitrates after the cleanup.

'Every employee should be empowered to call 911,' Solymossy said. 'Anyone who is handling these materials should carry a card along with the important phone numbers. Even if they believe it is not a big deal, call the EPA. The only time you will get a fine is if you don't make the call.'

Preventing injuries

Solymossy stressed the importance of preplanning with emergency responders. He illustrated the statement with a video of the disastrous grain plant explosion in Texas where 12 EMS personnel and three members of the public lost their lives.

'You must provide the first responders and firefighters with information about what is in the area,' he said. 'They need to know if there is anything explosive near the fire, and they need to know what things are explosive. They aren't always familiar with farm products.'

He suggested helping to train local first responders about how to handle fires at the farm or farm supply business.

In the Texas incident, the firefighters were too close to the plant, concentrating on putting out the fire, and they did not realize how close the fire was to explosive materials.

'If a fire occurs somewhere near explosive materials, just tell them to let it burn,' Solymossy said. 'The environmental damage from the smoke will be much less than the environmental contamination from water-soaked fertilizer, and staying a distance from the fire will prevent injury.

'Life first, property second. Then call the necessary agencies such as EPA, DATCP, DNR or OSHA.'