Turning a tragedy into a crusade
Mandy Hammes knows the statistics: The U.S. agriculture sector accounted for 475 deaths in 2012 and recorded the highest fatality rate of any industry. She looks at it from a much more personal perspective.
Life changed in a few seconds for her family in January 2012. Her father-in-law, John, 60, was vacuuming soybeans from a bin on his farm near Richland, Iowa, when he was pulled down and was suffocated by soybeans. Mandy and John are pictured above.
“Later that summer, when my husband and son were cleaning the bin, they found John’s hat at the center of the bin,” Hammes says. “It’s a treasured keepsake.”
Hammes’ husband, A.J., left his off-farm job and returned to take over the farm. “He had always planned to farm with his dad one day,” she says.
Hammes, a certified agricultural nurse, wanted John’s death to make a difference.
“My goal is that no other family suffers the pain we’re experiencing,” she says. “We live in the heartland with top agricultural production. I believe EMS personnel should have training for agricultural incidents and, more importantly, have the appropriate equipment. It’s a matter of life and death. I know this is going to take awhile, but I hope to make a difference.”
One month after John’s death, she and A.J. set up a training for local fire departments, assisted by Dan Neenan, a paramedic and director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety in Peosta, Iowa. In the spring, Hammes began scouting for events (fairs, day camps, seed suppers, community college forums) where she could talk about grain safety.
This fall, they organized Harvest Safety Days at Pekin Community School (Packwood). Hammes’ mother-in-law, Rosemary, has joined her daughter-in-law to back the educational efforts.
Friday kicked off with an event for 384 K-12 students, including safety stations.
Equipment displays and grain bin rescue simulations were set up near the football field. Farmers were invited to attend before the game and at halftime.
On Saturday, Neenan trained two fire departments in rescue techniques for tractor roll overs. On Sunday, he trained three departments in technical manure pit engulfment rescue.
To date, over 18 fire departments have been trained by Neenan, and Hammes has reached over 700 farmers.
Hammes has received event sponsorship from both Farm Credit Services of America and Precision Equipment. She welcomes agribusiness funding to help with her school educational efforts.
“I want to teach farmers to be proactive about safety,” she says. “Five days after John was killed in a grain bin, a young man in our area was killed in a tractor rollover. These tragedies occur across the entire age spectrum.
“Our event taught grade school kids about buddy seats and safety equipment, and trained firefighters in extrication techniques,” she says. “The feedback has been great, and we plan to continue our efforts next spring.”
Mandy Hammes has a nonprofit Farmer Awareness Community Training (FACT) to help buy equipment and training for fire and rescue departments. Email her at: mandy.hammes.FACT@gmail.com.