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Turning a tragedy into a crusade

CHERYL TEVIS Updated: 03/11/2014 @ 1:27pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

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.

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Brad Stout Could this tragedy have been prevented 02/27/2014 @ 2:55pm I can't express enough the heart felt empathy for Johns family because of this tragedy. I don't know what the details were of the incident, if rotating machinery was involved or not. I do know as the statistics mentioned in this article bear out there are many cases of people working alone and getting caught up in machinery on the farm. This next bit may look like pure promotion. It's not but I dont really care what it sounds like I could not let this go with out saying there is a series of devices out there that could prevent countless lives and limbs from being lost, perhaps even this death. A friend, who is himself a farmer and who had a similar experience he survived invented a device that allows the operator of equipment to shut that equipment down even if he is being sucked into it. It at least gives them a chance. The devices are Fox-Paws emergency shutoffs. They work but the operator wearing on his person a shutdown button, around his neck on a lanyard or on his belt, somewhere he can get at it. Much like the famous "I 've fallen and I cant get up" device the elderly use to get help in an emergency. When activated the Fox-Paws device shuts down the equipment immediately. Would this have saved John? I don't know. As I said I don't know all the circumstances, but in many many cases it would. The inventor is Ted Lacy an Idaho farmer who saw a need, made one and was himself saved at least major injury. Once he was spared injury he thought every farm operation should have these, and has tried to promote it to the farm community so far with out much success. I don't get it to me it's a no brainer. Some my consider them expensive but how much is a human life worth? Especially if it's one of your family. Again I may seem to be shamelessly promoting a friend but folks you should at least look at his website to decide if you need these on your farm equipment. the life you save could be your own or one of you family members. http://www.redfoxenterprises.com or call Ted Lacy directly 208-231-5860 I hope this comment saves someone heartbreak. Brad Stout Spokane WA.

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