Kane County farms and businesses can store about 9 million bushels of grain, in hundreds of bins, according to the Kane County Farm Bureau.
And those bins are dangerous places.
According to farm-safety experts, a worker can become trapped in grain up to the knees in as little as two seconds and, depending on the person's size, be engulfed in six seconds.
The pressure of the grain means the person can't be simply yanked out by others. Grain will compress the chest as breath is expelled. If lifted out by other means, the hundreds of pounds of pull force needed could damage the spinal column.
That kind of tragedy struck May 5 when a 73-year-old man was killed after falling into a grain bin on his family farm in Genoa. The man was working alone, dislodging grain stuck on the sides in his bin, when he became engulfed.
In hopes of preventing a similar tragedy closer to home, the Kane County Farm Bureau Foundation is raising money to equip firefighters in the northern Fox Valley with a grain rescue tube, a device that helps rescuers clear grain away from a trapped person without causing more grain to pile up against the body.
"We felt it was important that our first responders (have the specialized equipment)," said Steve Arnold, manager of the Kane County Farm Bureau in St. Charles.
Arnold surveyed fire departments and districts throughout the Fox Valley, and found that fire districts in the northern area, including Pingree Grove, Burlington and Hampshire, didn't have a tube.
"This is really lifesaving equipment in that kind of situation," he said.
Grain tubes are made of aluminum panels that can be shoved down in the grain around a trapped person and locked together to form a dam. Rescuers can then vacuum or scoop grain out of the tube, enabling the person to be pulled or climb out.
Arnold said the foundation will leave it up to the fire departments to choose what make and model of tube to buy, and that they typically cost several thousand dollars. One manufacturer lists them for $2,300.
People can become stuck in grain in several ways. Being knocked down by dislodged grain from walls is one way.
Another is falling while walking on so-called "bridged" grain. Grain that has high moisture content or mold, or that has frozen, can form a crust called a bridge, hiding a possible air pocket below. The bridged grain breaks under the person's weight, causing the person to fall into a hole, where the loosened grain pours down on him or her.
Victims may die from suffocation or compression injuries.
A 2010 Purdue University report showed entrapments and deaths doubled nationwide between 2006 and 2010. That corresponded with increased planting and harvesting, and lengthier storage of corn, the report's authors wrote. Longer storage time contributes to the conditions for bridging.
In 2010, according to the report, Illinois had the most grain-related entrapments of any state.
Historically, 75 percent of grain-related entrapments since 1964 have happened on farms that are exempt from Occupational Safety and Health Administration law enforcement, the report said.
The study also estimated that the number of entrapments could be 20 to 30 percent higher than reported, due to the lack of a comprehensive national system for reporting such incidents and because some may be reluctant to report an entrapment in which the person was rescued uninjured.
The farm bureau foundation is raising money for the grain tube with a pig roast from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. June 27 at the Farm Bureau office, Randall Road at Oak Street, St. Charles. There will also be games and firetruck tours. The advance cost is $10 per person and $25 per family (parents with children under age 15.) Tickets are $5 more if bought at the door.
To make a reservation, call (630) 584-8660 by June 23.