Farmer counts himself 'lucky' to survive corn bin entrapment
By Steve Dzubay and Judy Wiff
BALDWIN -- Volunteers from five area departments, including River Falls, converged on a town of Rush River farm Friday afternoon to rescue a farmer trapped in a large bin while trying to release corn that had crusted near its top.
Buddy Schumacher, 52, said Monday that he is "stiff, sore, black and blue" but lucky to be alive after an ordeal that lasted over five hours.
"Another couple of minutes and I would have been pushing daisies," said Schumacher, who managed to reach his two-way radio to call his son for help.
He had sunk chest deep in the corn and stayed that way until family, neighbors and rescue workers built a crib around him and dug out enough grain to pull him free.
Baldwin Fire Chief Gary Newton said Schumacher had climbed atop and entered the bin through its rooftop access cover to loosen corn stuck around the edges of the structure.
According to Schumacher, as he walked across the half-empty bin on the crusted corn, it loosened and he slipped down.
After struggling for about 15 minutes to free himself, Schumacher used the radio to call his son, who was outside the bin. Through a stroke of luck, said the father, they had just gone back and gotten the radios.
First his son and then neighbors tried for about an hour to release Schumacher before they called rescue units.
When personnel from United Fire's Baldwin station arrived at 2056 18th Ave., near the junction of Hwy. 63 and County Road Y, they entered the bin, located Schumacher and got a safety harness around his upper body. Once they knew he was stable and secure, rescuers were able to take their time extricating him, Newton said.
Schumacher said he wasn't in pain, although his breathing was restricted. He said he felt like he was trapped in concrete up to his chest.
"You couldn't move nothing," said Schumacher. "I was just immobilized. I couldn't move."
Simply pulling him out wasn't an option, he said. "That wasn't going to happen without pulling me apart."
So workers built a crib around the trapped man and shoveled out corn until it was about to his waist.
Because Schumacher was in an area opposite the access door, Newton said his department requested help from the St. Croix EMS rope rescue team and another ladder truck from the River Falls Fire Department to join the Baldwin ladder rig.
The aerial platforms allowed firefighters to rig ropes which were used to pull Schumacher free without having to cut a hole in the side of the bin. Newton said firefighters were poised to take that action had it been necessary.
"I went in the bin about 2 o'clock and it was about 7:40 when they pulled me out," said Schumacher.
He has advice for other farmers: Don't do that.
"I actually (broke) the golden rule of what you're never supposed to do," said Schumacher, admitting that he did "everything wrong."
He said he has repeatedly warned his son and nephews about bin safety, and the farm has a full-body harness that should be used when climbing on grain bins.
It's rare that a farmer who falls in a grain bin survives, admitted Schumacher.