Heartland farmers unite to equip bootheel with grain bin rescue gear

Grant given to help first responders with grain bin rescues

PEMISCOT COUNTY, Mo. (KFVS) - A cotton farmer, a firefighter, and a widow are all praising an effort to equip first responders in Missouri’s bootheel with new equipment for rescuing people trapped in grain bins.

Matt Pierce’s family has been farming in Pemiscot county for more than 150 years. This year a third of Pierce’s crop is rice, which he stores in large on-farm grain gins.

“There are close to 450-grain bins just in Pemiscot county, with a total storage capacity of 10 million bushels,” Pierce said. “Some people don’t understand the risk involved until an accident happens.”

Pierce submitted an essay to the ‘Transform My Community’ contest inspired by the story of David Dowdy, a farmer from Stoddard County who in 2009 suffocated after falling into a grain bin full of crusted corn he was cleaning.

Pierce’s essay ended up winning the $25,000 grand prize, which was donated by Corteva AgroSciences.

Pierce gave the federal grant to the Hayti Fire Department to purchase new equipment for grain bin rescues.

Hayti’s assistant fire chief Brian Irion said the new equipment will be stored in a trailer so it can be used by other departments in the area.

“The rescue tube, the augers, the stokes basket, the pulleys, the anchors. We can use the whole entire system to hoist someone back out of a bin, because we would have to go back out of the top.," Irion said. "With this equipment, we at least now have the capability to possibly get someone out of there alive and not deceased.”

In 2009 it took rescuers two hours to open the grain bin on the Dowdy farm and recover David’s body inside.

David’s wife Pam Dowdy said waiting that long was unbearable, and thinks the new equipment is just what the area needs.

“It makes me feel wonderful because this is going to happen again to some other family down the road, and it’s simply because somebody in a split second made the wrong decision,” Pam Dowdy said. “It’s wonderful to have people who are trained and ready on a minute notice to show up with this equipment and take care of it, and hopefully have a better outcome then we did.”

After the grain bin was repaired, Dowdy said she kept it up as a constant reminder for people who drive by and for her family to continue raising awareness.

“I feel like David is proud that we carried on and continued farming for four more years together,” Dowdy said. "We still needed the grain bin for our operation. That shiny metal plate of that bin with the rest of it being rusted reminds you every day when you top the hill that somebody died there. You ask yourself, ‘What can I do to stop my family from going through it?’”

19 Hayti firefighters have been through grain bin rescue training and assistant chief Irion is encouraging farmers and farm hands to also take the course at their local fire station.

Copyright 2019 KFVS. All rights reserved.