Indianapolis Fire Department recovers victim from grain silo after 10 hour effort

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INDIANAPOLIS — A man died after being trapped in a grain silo Saturday on the near northwest side.

The Indianapolis Fire Department said crews responded to the 1100 block of West 18th Street around 12:30 p.m. on a report of a man stuck in soybean product inside the silo at Bunge Contractors, an oil seed processing plant that stores soybeans and mainly provides them to a processing plant in Morristown.

When crews arrived, they confirmed the victim, 35-year-old Marvin Tyler, was trapped in soybean product and was not responding. It was about 10 hours later when crews were able to recover his body.

According to IFD, Tyler has been an employee of Bunge for two years.

IFD public information officer and battalion chief, Rita Reith, said these types of responses are what they refer to as “high-risk, low probability,” meaning that the department trains often for them, as they do with other scenarios, but they aren’t as likely to happen in an urban setting as they are in a rural area.

“We do train for these, but when they happen, we realize right from the get-go it’s gonna take a lot of hours, it’s gonna take a lot of manpower, it’s gonna take a lot of energy, it’s gonna take an entire support staff of people that are gonna help manage this incident,” said Reith, “and that’s exactly what happened yesterday.”

The department requested assistance from several agencies, including the Hendricks County Confined Space Team and the Hancock County Collapse Rescue team, in addition to their rescuers, calling them “two very qualified technical confined space rescue teams” who were instrumental in Saturday’s operation.

Reith said, “Each of these individual things require a different skill level of training and it is highly technical training that these firefighters and other personnel are having to go through.”

The department said the constant shift of the soybean product became the biggest obstacle for rescuers. They reported every time progress was made in removing it from the victim, it would slide back down and put them back to square one.

“Working in those silos with a product like soybean it’s kind of like working in quicksand. Once it grabs a hold of you, it’s very difficult to just remove it or lift a person up and out of the soybeans and move them to to where you want them,” said Reith.

Reith recalls several similar responses over the last few years, where the department was called to a person trapped in a silo that held corn and another with gravel.

“You have different types of products that each move differently inside the silo. The people that work there, they know what they’re doing, they know how the product moves, they know what they need to do to work through it walk across it, any of those things,” she continued, “but as rescuers we have to be able to think critically and adjust with each step that we make in order to a keep the rescuer safe and protect the victim, should the victim be viable to save.”

Although the soybean product itself was easy to work with, Reith said due to how slippery it was, it didn’t allow for a working surface for rescuers trying to get to the victim.

“They basically had to go in and completely build a work area around the victim,” she said, explaining that building a platform to work with on such soft material takes time since crews can’t walk across the product.

In teams of two, Reith said they worked in about 40-minute shifts, entering from the top and lowering down about 100 feet each time. They would do this and send in another crew of rescuers.

She said there were at least seven rotations of crews that went into the silo.

“By the end of that the rescuers are exhausted because they’re not just down there moving soft piles of soybean, they’re actually physically trying to get in and under the victim,” Reith explained.

“You know, they’re trying to remove the product from around the victim and in order to do that you have to build a system around the victim just so you can use the vacuum truck or shovels or buckets or whatever you need to do to get that product away.”

Even moving several inches of the product could take several hours, Reith said.

In addition to the exhausting and extremely technical operation, Reith said some of the firefighters had been at the fire on the west side at a recycling facility throughout the morning when they were called to assist here.

“We actually pulled some of our firefighters away from that fire because they were the confined space team and they had to come over and do this run.”

Because it was determined to be an oxygen-deficient atmosphere inside the silo, all rescuers and personnel who entered the silo were required to undergo a medical checkout upon exiting by Indianapolis EMS.

It was just before 2:30 p.m. when rescuers were able to make contact with Tyler, but an assessment found that he had already passed. Crews worked nonstop for the next eight hours before he would be recovered.

“It’s a delicate balancing act between you know trying to explain to them [family] how it works and why it’s taking so long and unfortunately last night lasted about 10 hours before we were able to make a successful recovery and that is some thing that you know no family wants to have to go through that,” said Reith.

Eventually, IFD Tac Teams used a high angle rope system to lower down and build a working platform. Despite some frustration, the department said rescuers stabilized and re-stabilized the position Tyler was in and used a Vac Truck to remove the soybean product from around him.

Crews were able to extract Tyler from the grain bin around 10:30 p.m. Saturday.

The circumstances around his death are under investigation.

According to IFD, Tyler was located about 4 feet from the bottom of the silo, which is 112 feet tall and 40 feet in diameter. When full, the silo holds approximately 80,000 to 90,000 bushel, however, at the time of the accident, it was holding about 25,000 bushel.

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