Mountain. Firefighters rescue man to chest in sugar silo

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By Griffen Smith
Billings Gazette, Mont.

BILLINGS, Mont. – Firefighters at No.2 Station of the Billings Fire Department took a break from their normal work on Wednesday to be recognized by Governor Greg Gianforte for rescuing a man trapped in a Billings sugar silo on the month latest.

“You relied on your training and trusted your team. Any wrong move could have seriously injured the individual or your team,” Gianforte said at the fire station. “On behalf of the state of Montana, thank you for your work.”

The tech rescue team spent hours discovering a Western Sugar Co-Op employee who was buried chest-up in sugar at the South Side factory on May 28, then finally removed the man in a wooden box built on site.

The Tech Rescue Team spent hours discovering a Western Sugar Co-Op employee who was buried chest to the chest in sugar at the South Side factory on May 28, then finally removed the man in a wooden box built on site. (Photo / Billings Fire Department)

The tech rescue team spent hours discovering a Western Sugar Co-Op employee who was buried chest-up in sugar at the South Side factory on May 28, then finally removed the man in a wooden box built on site.

Gianforte said the rescue was the only successful OSHA recorded in similar situations. Without the expertise of the technical unit, the man would probably have died.

Rescue workers first attempted to dig the man out of the sugar at 9:30 am By that time, the worker had been trapped in the sugar for two hours. Half a dozen firefighters crawled through the hole in the silo and shoveled the poured sugar to keep his airways open.

But the production did not stop and the sugar continued to accumulate on the man. It was too painful to pull him straight out of the fine grains that trapped his body.

Battalion Chief Kevin Bentz, who led the rescue, said a total of 30 rescuers assisted in the rescue. The difficulty of access led him to call on a hazardous materials team for ventilation assistance. A dozen firefighters on leave also joined us. Everyone was on the bridge, Bentz said.

“This was a low-frequency, high-risk situation, which could go south quickly,” Bentz said. “We had to assign our people to what they were good at: shoveling, chopping. I think we did a good job on that.”

The crew then brought a trailer with wood and assembled a box to place around it.

Rescuers multitasked while digging up the man, taking steps for builders outside to build the box. After two hours, the man was freed using a multiple rope system and rushed to hospital.

“We never know what to expect when we are loading, which is why we don’t prefabricate our rescue supplies,” said Sean Biggins, Billings firefighter training manager. “There is nothing about technical rescue that is fast. We have to be perfect in our response.”

Biggins said technical rescue team members undergo several hundred more hours of training for building, water and silo extractions than the average fire crew. Some training sessions take place at Western Sugar Co-Op.

Western Sugar has faced fines of over $ 100,000 in the past due to unsafe conditions for its employees. In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United States Department of Labor issued nine citations totaling $ 115,900 in fines after the death of a Billings factory employee.

Gianforte visited the station and spoke with the firefighters who responded to the scene. He presented the station with a flag raised in their honor on the steps of the state capital, the letter he wrote, and the Spirit of Montana plaque addressed to the station.

The Spirit of Montana Award is a regular recognition of Montanais for their achievements, dedication or service. Anyone can nominate Montanans for the Spirit of Montana Award by contacting the governor’s office at 406-444-3111 or submitting the nomination online at Governor.mt.gov/Spirit-of-Montana-Award.

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(c) 2021 Billings Gazette (Billings, Mont.)


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