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EMS rescuer tells his story

Lucky for Rush River farmer Buddy Schumacher, Hudson native and resident Jay Penfield was paged specifically to help in a lengthy rescue operation to remove him after he became trapped in a corn bin on his farm.

The call came in Friday afternoon; dispatch called for St. Croix EMS high angle ropes team and Jay.

"Male stuck in a grain bin... Rope team stand-by...Jay respond directly to the scene."

The reason is that Jay knows nearly everyone on the United Fire Department, which includes Baldwin, Woodville and Hammond, because over the years he has trained them in rescue techniques. Penfield is presently an instructor with WITC, teaching technical rescue techniques which include high angle ropes rescue, ice rescue and confined space rescue. Prior to that, he taught technical rescue for Best Alternative Trainers for 10 years.

As they say, he was the man for the job.

"While they have had classes in confined space rescue," said Penfield, "I am involved with this all of the time so I could give them some technical advice."

Penfield arrived on the scene in his street clothes. He grabbed a helmet, coat, harness and radio and went to work, joining United Fire Department firefighter Matt Knegendorf inside the corn bin.

"It was like being in a jar of marbles," said Penfield. "The department had a confined space rescue trailer and Matt had called for everything from their trailer to try a quick rescue."

"Initially we put a chest harness on him and tried to use the mechanical advantage system to free him from the corn," said Penfield. "It didn't work. So we settled in for a bigger project and began to request shoring material." At this point, Penfield was one of five people inside the corn bin which included Schumacher, his son, Knegendorf and St. Croix County Deputy, Sgt. Jeff Kennett. All of them were attached to life lines and subsequently were standing on boards so they did not sink into the corn as well.

Schumacher was in the middle of the bin at the lowest spot with corn towering 10 to 12 feet above him. Imagine a funnel with him at the base.

"It was pretty serious business," said Penfield. "Most of the people don't survive something like this."

"Incident command did a wonderful job of coordinating the whole operation," said Penfield. Eventually, several departments were on hand to help. "We exhausted United Fire's equipment early on."

Compounding the problem was that the opening at the top of the bin was only 23 inches wide, so all of the shoring material needed to be cut to fit through the hole.

As the crews began to assemble outside, one was cutting shoring material, another was preparing and planning the best way to breach the bin (cut a hole in the side of the bin) if necessary. The River Falls Fire Department, responding with their ladder truck, removed the equipment from the top of the bin so the opening was free and clear, allowing St. Croix EMS High Angle Ropes Team the opportunity to install their rescue lines.

"This type of rescue is a major endeavor," said Penfield. "It is monstrously involved."

The team inside the bin started to construct the 'crib' around Schumacher, approximately four feet in diameter, using plywood and back boards.

"We pushed it down as far as we could get it to go," said Penfield. Then using shovels and five gallon pails they began to remove the corn.

"The more we removed the more pressure built up on the outside of the shoring," said Penfield.

"Our goal was to dig down far enough to get a harness between his legs so we could lift his whole body," said Penfield. The ambulance personnel was monitoring the situation inside the bin for medical concerns.

"We just could not get down far enough to get the harness on," said Penfield. So they rigged straps through his bib overalls, along with the chest harness and began to pull.

"With some help from the victim, who wiggled his legs, we were able to pull him out," said Penfield. With the Hudson High Angle Ropes rescue system ready to raise him safely out, Schumacher declined help, saying he was okay. With a safety line attached he climbed out of the bin, the same way he got in on, using the ladder.

"He was adamant he was not injured," said Penfield. "I don't know if they realize just how serious it was."

"United Fire controlled it all extremely well," said Penfield. "Serving as the incident command center, they monitored everything from the air quality in the bin to the safety lines and all of the units who responded to help.

"The Hudson team trains a lot and it is great to be able to use the skills it has trained for years to use," said Penfield. All together, nearly fifty members responded from area departments including: Baldwin First Responders, EMS and medic; River Falls Fire and EMS; United Fire (which includes Baldwin, Woodville and Hammond); and St. Croix EMS.

Penfield is a member of the St. Croix EMS, the high angle ropes rescue team and the Hudson Fire Department.