By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
KINDERHOOK, Ill. -- If a farmer has to go into a grain bin, Mark Pulliam offers some advice: Use the buddy system.
"It's a team effort," Pulliam said. "You don't ever want to enter without another person there that's watching you or making sure everything's fine."
Pulliam, a trustee with the New Canton Fire Department who works on grain bins for Two Rivers FS in Kinderhook, helped rescue a Kinderhook man trapped last year in a grain bin. He never wants to do it again, so he knows that reminding people about grain bin safety is important heading into harvest and National Farm Safety and Health Week, which kicks off today with the theme of "Safety Counts -- Your Community Depends on It."
Entering grain bins was something "in the past everybody just went ahead and did," Pulliam said. "We're becoming more aware of things that can happen."
What happened to Ervin Borrowman on April 20, 2010, was a stark reminder.
Borrowman entered the bin through a side door and immediately sank into the corn. He couldn't free himself and was having trouble breathing because of the pressure of the corn pinning him and because of health problems. From inside the bin, he called his wife, Roberta, on his cell phone, telling her he was "suffocating" and trapped.
A call to 911 sent emergency personnel to the scene, with friends and nearby farmers also coming to help.
Pulliam was at work in Kinderhook when a fellow employee, a firefighter in Pittsfield, heard the call about the farm accident.
"I run down there, went up the bin to check on him. He was still conscious, still moving," Pulliam said. "I got the torch out, started cutting holes before a lot of response people got there."
Pulliam knew it was important to work quickly, but carefully, to rescue Borrowman, who was fighting to breathe.
"It's like somebody hugging you and every time you exhale they squeeze tighter and you can't get as much air as last time," Pulliam said.
As rescue workers pulled grain through the holes, "when it got down so far, we could dig around him so it wasn't caving in on him more," he said. "He was like inside of an upside-down cone. The corn was up higher than he was. We got it low enough to put oxygen on him to help."
Thankfully, it was a rescue, not a recovery, effort.
"It was definitely a team effort. It wasn't a one-person rescue. It took all the people there to get it done in the time frame we got it done," Pulliam said. "Everything was just working in his favor."
In just over an hour, Borrowman was freed and suffered no apparent injuries.
Borrowman declined to be interviewed, but he said he is getting along all right today.
Other farmers aren't so lucky. Three people died in Illinois from July 1, 2010, through June 2011 in grain bin accidents, according to Country Financial, which tracks farm-related deaths through newspaper accounts. In 2009, 42 percent of people trapped in grain died, according to the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
Interest in staying safe on the farm surged after the April 2010 incident. Responders met a few days later, talking about what was done and what to do next time.
"It's kind of died off because we've not had any incidents since then, and you know out of sight, out of mind," Pulliam said.
But more preparations have been made for the next time there's a farm accident in Pike County.
Two Rivers and Growmark already had pushed for grain bin safety training for employees, and since the incident, fire departments in Pike County have gone through training sessions. The Pittsfield Fire Department also bought some specialized rescue equipment.
"We all know they have it. We call, and they respond with the equipment," Pulliam said.