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Farm aid - rescuers know farms

February 09, 1999

Farm MedicsBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




INWOOD, W.Va. - The changing face of the Eastern Panhandle work force is creating new challenges for firefighters and rescue workers dealing with potentially deadly farm accidents.

"Not only do we want to save farmers but we need to protect fire and emergency personnel from becoming part of the problem," said fire and rescue instructor Robert C. Baker Jr. of Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

The Eastern Panhandle has more than 1,000 farms, but with an increasing number of firefighters coming from nonfarming backgrounds, many rescue workers are unsure what to expect when they are called to handle farm emergencies, Baker said.

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With most 911 calls coming in the form of car accidents and brush fires, rescue crews are not always used to dealing with the unique situations presented in an agricultural setting, said Baker.

Firefighters accustomed to tearing into the side of car might find the blade of that same heavy-duty saw snaps on the frame of tractor, he said.

Burning barns might contain deadly pesticides and herbicides while grain silos can be filled with potentially lethal fumes or tetanus-laced rusty nails.

As a national faculty member for the FARMEDIC National Training Center at New York's Alfred State College, Baker has spent more than four years working to educate Eastern Panhandle rescue workers on those dangers.

"The first rule of human nature is to jump in and try to save somebody's life," said South Berkeley Volunteer Fire Company Chief and FARMEDIC instructor Bruce Chrisman. "The goal is to identify problems so we can do our jobs."

With about three farm-related accidents each last year in Berkeley and Morgan counties, rescue calls to farms are fairly rare but can be deadly, said Chrisman. A man in Hedgesville, W.Va., was killed last summer when a pan grader rolled over on him, he said.

Along with training rescue workers to handle farm accidents, Baker and Chrisman are trying to change the mindset of farmers who might be hesitant to call for help in an emergency.

"Growing up on a farm, you didn't go to the hospital unless you were half dead," said Chrisman.

Many farmers would rather handle a problem themselves than risk calling rescue workers and ending up with a costly ambulance trip or having firefighters hack apart a $75,000 piece of machinery, said Chrisman.

One of the most common farm accidents occurs when tractors roll over on an incline, trapping the driver underneath, said Chrisman.

About 80 percent of the time, the farmer is rescued by other farm workers, but there is always the chance the victim could die if emergency workers are not on the scene to control blood loss or sudden blood pressure changes, said Chrisman.

"We're not trying to tell farmers how to use their machinery," he said.

While farming accidents may not be an everyday occurrence in the Eastern Panhandle, Baker and Chrisman said that rarity is all the more reason to practice.

"An accident scene is not a training ground," Baker said. "Whether it's a farm or auto accident, the standards and procedures should still be the same."

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