Once the hazards are identified, the salvage and recovery crew can arrive on-site with the correct equipment and supplies for the job, to meet the first responders and start the initial steps toward disaster recovery.
A grain bin fire presents perhaps the most life-threatening emergency a company can face and complicating the situation further, traditional fire extinguishing methods are not recommended. Likening a salvage operation to a game of chess, Houston Grain Trading’s Jones warns that spraying water into the top of a tank is the worst first move you can make.
“Adding water to a grain bin on fire can create a steam explosion, taking the lives of firefighters and anyone on-site,” says Jones, adding “I’ve seen it happen.”
From the commodity salvage perspective, excessive moisture damages grain and can make it difficult, if not impossible, to market should the USDA or FDA “red tag” the commodity, which severely restricts how it can be used or even forces it to be dumped.
Jones generally takes charge of the fire department’s actions to help ensure the tank doesn’t collapse and the commodity isn’t further damaged in the process. Instead of water, Jones says the safest and most effective way to simultaneously put out a grain fire and salvage the commodity is to remove it from the bin with front end loaders, separate the charred grain from the salvageable grain with his company’s rough screen, and then load it onto hopper bottom trucks to be dispersed into piles according to quality.
Hulcher Services Inc.’s Kumlin says he always has a local fire department on standby for spraying water only onto flames while the commodity is being removed. He recommends frequently inviting the local department to tour your facility so they can respond better to a fire or any emergency situation.
As mentioned in Part I, the value of a good relationship with first responders is immeasurable during an emergency, but as Landmark Services Cooperative’s Elder discovered firsthand, other relationships can prove equally as important for locating the resources to handle your salvage operation. Sometimes the key to an effective recovery is as much “who” you know as “what” you know.
Elder describes the location of its Cottage Grove south campus — where it experienced a tunnel fire beneath a 500,000-bushel corn bin in December 2011— as lucky.
“Houston Grain Trading had to make a hole in the bin over an area of ground that wasn’t very solid, but it needed to withstand the weight of an end loader repeatedly driving over it to remove the grain,” he recalls. “We’re fortunate to have a couple major contractors in our area, so they came in and built a temporary gravel road in a day or so under Jones’ direction.”
Landmark’s good fortune didn’t end there either. The fire department sprayed a large volume of water into the tunnel and Landmark needed a way to remove it, so they turned to a neighbor situated minutes away from the co-op.
“Located diagonally from us is the sewage pumping company, so they came over to pump the water out and safely disposed of it for us,” says Elder.
The moral of his story: Take a survey of the businesses in your vicinity and establish relationships with them to take advantage of the equipment and services you may need access to during an emergency.
No company wants to experience an unavoidable catastrophe, but knowing a safe salvage operation can minimize commodity damage may provide some reassurance. Time is of the essence when disaster strikes, so have all safety hazards readily listed. Then let the salvager work directly with the fire department to minimize commodity damage that could occur through traditional emergency response means. Finally, having stock of the local resources in your community can help secure the equipment necessary to safely and efficiently complete the operation.