Local firefighters and EMTs practice rescuing a dummy at a mock farm accident staged at a Findley Township farm.

Weekends are meant for fun, but for 40 first responders this past weekend was serious business.

Doug Dick of Superior Ambulance organized a two-day training for fire, rescue and emergency medical personnel, to help them understand how to respond to incidents on local farms.

The training included lectures, field trips and hands-on training. These men and women participated in 14 hours of training to respond to agricultural incidents.

Participants came from Butler, Lawrence, Mercer and Venango counties.

“Of the 40 people, 35 had never been on a farm or had never responded to an agricultural emergency,” Dick said. “I think the training was fabulous. It was an eye-opening experience.”

Dick said that the instructors reminded the participants over and over that their crew leader or chief won’t always be there to make the decisions. The class members had opportunities to make the decisions during the activities.

The class spent Saturday afternoon at Irishtown Acres, a Jersey dairy farm owned by the Paxton family in Findley Township, where they had an opportunity to see the types of equipment used on a large dairy farm.

Jerry Jespersen and his son Chad from Warren County were the instructors at the farm.

“Don’t be afraid to ask if you need information,” Jerry Jespersen said. “When you are called to a farm for an incident, if you don’t know, ask. Ask someone who is there. It is faster than trying to find it on your own.”

First responders need to know where power sources are located; what chemicals are in any containers; and where the shut-off valves are for electric, gas and propane. They also learned about the tractors, trucks, skid-steer loaders and other farm implements they might find at the scene of a farm accident.

As Chad Jespersen led his group through the milking parlor, cow barns and around the bunker silos, he pointed out areas that are of high value to farmers: Computers and written records in the office; new tractors over older ones; and milking equipment in the milking parlor. Farm owner Steve Paxton valued each milking unit at about $3,000 each.

“When you respond to a traffic accident, you don’t think twice about cutting off the roof to get to the victim. The car is covered by insurance. It’s required by law. These tractors aren’t all covered by insurance but will have to be replaced if they are ruined,” Chad Jespersen said. “These things are the farmer’s livelihood.”

Paxton noted that replacement costs of several of the tractors run from $10,000 to $90,000 – and that isn’t for new equipment.

Participants were challenged to make the right decision quickly so that lives can be saved. They also learned the importance of working as a team and to remember that the team’s safety can’t be compromised in the process of helping the victim.

Davis Hill, director of the Managing Agricultural Emergency program at Penn State University, arranged for highly trained instructors to present the field trip and hands-on sessions.

Hill’s program provides computerized mannequins that simulate how a real person would respond and provide a much better experience than straw-filled mannequins.

“The mannequins – we call them Alfred and Rich – have a pulse, have breathing sounds, blood pressure and can cough, moan, scream, vomit and talk. EMTs can take vital signs and those can be changed just like a real person’s vital signs would change,” he said. “They can put a heart monitor on him and determine a cardiac rhythm, which can be changed. These are invaluable tools to use in the training because we want the responders to do everything in the training that they would do in real life.”

Hill trains first responders across the state.

“There has been a big demand for this training in western Pennsylvania,” Hill said. “There is an agriculture response team out of Beaver County that has been credited with several saves.”

The Beaver County Technical Farm Rescue Team is made up volunteers from of Potter, Daugherty and Big Knob fire departments. Two members of this team, Matt Johnston and John Murtha, served as instructors.

Dick expressed appreciation to Bill McDowell and Rick Stuchal for providing the tractors and implements for the hands-on training on Sunday. He anticipates having additional agricultural rescue trainings in the future.

Hill and Gary Micsky, Mercer County Extension educator, had also previously conducted a farm safety class for farm families, “What to Do until Help Arrives,” on April 9 at the Leslie N. Firth Education Center, Mercer.

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