Bunge donates $13,000 in rescue equipment to fire department

Aug. 25—Almost eight months after Decatur Fire & Rescue helped save the life of a Bunge employee trapped in a grain bin, the company donated $13,000 in equipment to the department Wednesday to help with similar rescues in the future.

The new high-angle rescue equipment included climbing ropes, pulleys, carabiners, prusik rope breaks, and rack, pulley and mariner components.

Fire Chief Tracy Thornton said his department can utilize the equipment at almost every industry in the city as well as at water towers and cellphone towers.

"The equipment can be used for climbing, but most of the time we use it for descending and then our crews pull the fighter and victim back up," Thornton said.

Thornton said his department uses the equipment "every few months."

Bunge Facility Manager Victor Pacheco said his company has seven 1-million-gallon bushel storage tanks and several small grain storage tanks for soybeans.

"There are times we have to go into those grain bins to empty and clean them," Pacheco said. "If something were to happen, we want the fire department to have the equipment to rescue them."

On the night of Feb. 9, a Bunge employee became trapped in a grain bin while breaking up clumps of soybeans.

The worker was fitted with a self-contained breathing apparatus for air supply. The same rescue equipment that Bunge donated Wednesday was also attached to the employee to tether him and prevent further entrapment.

Firefighters and Bunge personnel worked together to save the man. After multiple attempts to free the employee, he was finally able to get out of the bin. He was transported by Decatur-Morgan EMS to Decatur Morgan Hospital for evaluation.

"The incident turned out the best way possible," Pacheco said. "He got out unharmed."

Thornton said the equipment is often used on confined space and horizontal rescues. If a car goes off an embankment or into the Tennessee River, creek or other water canal, the firefighters can use the equipment to pull a backboard to safety without losing control of it or slipping.

Thornton said all of the department employees train in these rescues but there's a technical rescue team that gets specialized training in high-angle, trench and collapse rescues.

Deputy Chief Ashley England said most of the high-angle safety equipment stays on the Rescue 1 fire truck 95% of the time. The Bunge donation allows the department to spread out the specialized equipment to more trucks.

Thornton said the Bunge donation will share the wear with the department's existing equipment and increase its lifespan.

"We have limits on how long we can use it," Thornton said. "We have logs that we have that we keep up with how old the equipment is. There are certain things that can't be used unless it's X-rayed beforehand."

The fire department trains at its Fire & Rescue Training Center on Old Highway 31. It does multiple joint training exercises at Bunge and the city's other industries.

"We had a meeting with Meow Mix on Tuesday for us to do some on-site training with them," Thornton said.

Decatur Fire & Rescue is a member of Federal Emergency Management Agency's Alabama Task Force 3, a multi-agency organization that was formed in 2014 to provide urban search and rescue resources.

Bunge is an agribusiness and food company headquartered in St. Louis that has operations on Market Street in Decatur.

bayne.hughes@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2432. Twitter @DD_BayneHughes.