Jason Hartschuh, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Crawford County, Ohio State University Extension
When something goes wrong on your farm and emergency service personnel respond either for a fire or farm accident and everything is moving fast, trying to remember every detail responders need to know can be a challenge. Emergency response personnel are required to have continuing education training in order to stay certified. One part of this training can be doing site visits. Unlike urban departments who often must inspect buildings on a regular basis, rural fire departments often never get to visit farms until there is an emergency. Even in rural fire departments, many of the responders are not directly connected to farms, and even if they are, many do not know the hidden hazards around your farm. The best way to bridge the gap between your farm and emergency responders is to invite them to walk around your farm, identify hazards, and help you create an emergency plan.
The emergency action plan can include the farm walk around, plus an equipment close-up review, especially of machinery that may not be utilized on many farms in your area. It will also be worth your time to do a short course on animal handling. You may want to have disposable plastic boots available for biosecurity and so that visitors can walk around in your barn.
Fires in livestock facilities can cause many challenges. The first two things that should be discussed is how to handle livestock during the fire, where to move them to, and how to shut the power and backup generators off. Livestock are often scared during a fire, and even once chased out of the barn, they may run back in unless they are secured in another location, not only endangering them but also the responders. One of the first safety steps fireman take during a fire is to shut the power off, making it safe to use water on the fire and not risk electrocution. Shutting the power off also stops fans that may still be running and fueling the fire. If you have any type of fuel going to the building, such as propane or natural gas, it is important to show responders where to turn the gas off. Chemical storage, especially flammables, need pointed out to responders. Even non-flammables can release toxic gases that will endanger responders. While outside the barn, be sure to point out any buried tanks that may be hazardous if firefighters happen to drive over them or attempt to use that area as a means of entry. A tour within the buildings can be very important, especially when we have put additions onto your barns to expand the facility. Pointing out to responders the areas where buildings are tied together or areas where the buildings have leveraged headers can keep everyone safe in the future. During the tour and discussion, it is important to discuss if hay is still stored in the haymows and if specialized equipment like an aerial fire truck may be needed to reach over the barn to a fire in the middle. As part of the fire tour, be sure to discuss the nearest water source where water can be pumped from and if there are any water storage tanks on the farm.
Emergency medical rescues are another area to have an action plan for with your local fire department. Do you have confined spaces on the farm, such as manure storage, upright silo, bulk milk tanks, or bulk fertilizer tanks? These are all areas that can be a hazardous on the farm and can be a risk to you and responders. One of the risks with confined spaces is dangerous gasses. While on the tour, have a discussion with first responders about gas detection equipment that they have available if they need to enter a confined space. Hydrogen sulfide, methane, carbon monoxide, and ammonia are gases of concern. Pit gases from any storage pit, whether closed, open, or under barn storage, can be toxic to both humans and livestock. H2S gas concentration levels of 2 to 20 ppm will cause symptoms of nausea, headache, and dizziness. H2S levels greater than 100 ppm will cause altered breathing, collapse, and death.
While all animals can turn dangerous on the farm, be sure to tell responders if you keep a bull on the farm. Let them know where he is housed and if any restraint devices are available to restrain him. Another consideration is pinching/crushing hazards on the farm, e.g., these are often air or hydraulic operated gates in milking parlors. Be sure to show responders the emergency shut offs and how to operate all gates. Other hazards are medications and chemicals stored on the farm. Show responders where material safety data sheets are kept and the different storage locations so that accidental poisonings or needle sticks can be responded to quickly. Lastly, be sure to discuss your farm location naming so that if responders are called, they know where to find the victim, such as the old pole barn, dry cow barn, and east addition.
By inviting your local fire department to your farm for a tour and emergency preparedness, planning can make a bad day on your farm a little less stressful.