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Rural youth learn about pitfalls, safety tips at safety day

By Dave Bergmeier

Too many stories have been told about youth being injured or even killed in farm-related accidents.

Unfortunate story lines can read like this, which was listed on the Kansas Farm Bureau website pertaining to agriculture safety:

“A 17-year-old Kansas boy was taking a spray rig to a field when the truck rolled. He was pinned inside the truck for an hour but escaped death.”

Besides general farm accidents, all-terrain vehicle wrecks, electrocutions and vehicle accidents have all killed or seriously injured adults and youth. They occur in every state in the High Plains Journal coverage area.

A Progressive Agriculture Safety Day on Sept. 26 at the Hodgeman County Fairgrounds in Jetmore, Kan., gave children an opportunity to learn and ask questions about the hazards of living in a rural area. When prompted by presenters, youth raised their hands when asked if they knew of someone who was injured in a farm-related accident.

Ethan Burns, age 10, a fifth-grade student at Hodgeman County Elementary School, lives on a farm, and he and his dad talk regularly about farm safety. He attended a safety day a year ago and was eager to share what he learned with his father, who was appreciative of the questions his son asked him.

Ethan particularly enjoyed hearing about tractor safety because that is the most common piece of equipment used on a farm.

“My dad was really happy I learned about tractor safety,” Ethan said.

His grandfather uses chemicals in his farming operation and the grandson wants to hear about them as well. Safety days are informative and educational for the boy who enjoys being on a farm.

“I like to hear about what people have to say and then I tell my parents when I get home,” Ethan said.

Safety topics identified included: general farm safety and hazards, electrical, vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, Internet, chemical, fire, propane, grain and high water situations. Firefighters, air ambulance and emergency medical technicians were among those giving fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders advice when an accident occurs.

Demonstrations were designed to draw the interest of youth and allow them to interact with presenters, according to Ashley Frusher, district manager for the Hodgeman County Conservation District, which sponsored the all-day event. About 170 students, from two rural counties, attended.

Brandy Nuss, a fifth-grade teacher at Hodgeman County Elementary School, is also a farm wife and she understands danger can lurk, even in a rural area.

Several generations ago, a farm wife was home to greet her children. As the size of farms expanded, there were fewer family farms, plus many wives took off-farm jobs. The result in many cases was that children were coming home after school in a less supervised environment, which she said greatly increases accident risks.

“I think they are today exposed to things that might not have been available or did not exist all that long ago. People can take things for granted,” Nuss said. “Kids sometimes think they can do anything and as a parent you cannot let that be their approach.”

She knows of several serious accidents in recent years involving children in a farm setting so educating youth in safety events is time well spent.

“Today’s modern tractor are so easy to drive but they can become a 40,000-pound weapon,” she said.

On the family farm, the Nusses have containers that hold hazardous chemicals and thinking ahead, with her own 5-year-old, it is important to make sure chemicals are kept in a safe place, out of the reach of curious kids.

Students were placed into 10 groups and rotated around the various stations with the presentations lasting about 20 minutes, Frusher said. Local FFA students helped direct students to different stations and helped answer their questions.

“This is a really good time to reach kids before they get busy with junior high activities,” Frusher said.

Although it had a farm emphasis, the topics covered also applied to in-town students as well.

Farm safety

Doug Vieux, a Hodgeman County farmer and crop insurance adjuster, wears many hats. Besides his regular duties he is active in rural community organizations and is an emergency medical technician, meaning in times of crisis it has meant responding to helping a neighbor.

“You have to be ready to do your job,” he said. “When you know the person it’s like rolling up on a family member.”

As he addressed the youth he made it clear why it was important to put safety first. “If you don’t pay attention it can be your last day here,” Vieux said. “An accident is never good.”

Not all accidents are the fault of a vehicle and farm equipment operator, he reminded the students. “You have to let that person know you are around,” he said.

He told a story about a child who ran toward a tractor to see a parent or grandparent only to have the day turn into a disaster because the tractor driver did not see the youngster.

Vieux and presenter DeWayne Craghead, a Kansas State University Extension agent based in Jetmore, spoke about friends and family members they knew who had been injured or killed in rural areas. Craghead said agriculture is the second most dangerous occupation in the country.

They talked about power take-off accidents in which the rapid circular motion of a shaft caught a shirt or pant leg and pulled the victim into a machine. Craghead told the children about his uncle who had a leg mangled and it had to be amputated. His uncle had to use a prosthetic leg for many years.

“Even experienced and older people can forget (about safety),” Craghead said. “You must never forget.”

Augers are another piece of equipment that can grab a limb and cause permanent injuries or kill a person. Augers are typically used to fill grain bins. The augers must be watched to make sure they do not touch a power line. Other farm equipment with moving parts include combines, swathers and forage harvesters.

The presenters discussed what happens when a hydraulic hose loses oil. Youth watched with great interest when the bed of a grain truck was lowered to simulate the loss of oil pressure. What caught their eye was a mannequin with a watermelon designed to look like a head. As Vieux slowly lowered the bed, Craghead described to the children when such accidents occur. As the watermelon was crushed, the children let out a collective, “Oh, my gosh.”

Farm machinery that might appear to be harmless, such as a baler, can still cause serious injury or death. Vieux told youth about child who ran up behind a large baler. The tractor operator, who had not seen the child, flipped the mechanism to discharge the bale and the bale ran over the child. The child died from the injuries.

“It is not always the operator who causes the accident,” he said.

Other potential hazards discussed based on question from the youth involved farm trucks parked in hilly areas, livestock, snakes, abandoned wells, welders, and table saws.

“You have to be careful out on a farm,” Craghead said. “Accidents can happen. Try to prepare yourself so you are not the cause of an accident.”

Electrical safety

Josh Schmidt, manager of membership services, and linemen Mikey Goddard and Paul Schmidt gave demonstrations on what can happen during a power outage or when a line is down. They are employed at Victory Electric Cooperative Association in Dodge City, Kan.

“A lot of kids don’t realize there are 7,000 volts outside your house every day so there are many dangers,” Josh Schmidt said.

Goddard and Paul Schmidt used a hot dog as part of a demonstration highlighting what can happen if a child touches a power line. The hot dog was seared in a few seconds.

Josh Schmidt reinforced a message to the kids when he asked: “Rule No. 1, when you see a power line down what do you do?” The kids answered in unison, “Stay far away and call an adult.” The three Victory employees smiled with appreciation when they heard the answer.

Afterward, Josh Schmidt said high winds and storms that can tear down lines in a matter of minutes in a rural area.

“I think there is a lack of awareness about the danger because people are so used to having their power on every day. We want to talk about safety and raise awareness about those dangers when we’re at events like these. Hopefully the kids will take those messages home to their parents so they can talk about it as well.”

Road safety

Two Kansas Highway Patrol troopers, Brent Hemken, Larned, and Mike Racy, Garden City, talked to students about the importance of wearing seatbelts, and they said children could help save lives by urging parents, grandparents, siblings and friends to be properly buckled in.

Hemken said one of his most painful memories occurred when he went to an accident scene and a 13-year-old girl had been ejected from a side window in a pickup.

“She was only a couple of years older than all of you,” Hemken said. “There were Christmas presents everywhere around on the ground. She didn’t live.”

Hemken told the story so that students could understand the danger of improperly riding in a vehicle.

Racy gave a demonstration with a dummy strapped in a vehicle that was designed to simulate a rollover. The first time the dummy was properly strapped in, and Racy showed the students that the dummy was in good shape after multiple revolutions. The next time, he unharnessed the dummy and started the simulator. The students cringed as they heard a thump sound. Racy said that was the sound of the dummy hitting either the top of the cab or the dashboard.

Hemken said rollovers and bad accidents can occur in small towns at low speeds.


When presenters Justin Langer and Kevin Stoecklein, both of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Ness City, Kan., asked children if they knew of anyone who had fallen off an ATV or someone who had gotten hurt about three-fourths of them raised their hands. The students said sometimes people get hurt when too many people are riding on the ATV and someone falls off. They also knew of accidents in which the driver was going too fast, hit a rut in a pasture and tossed the driver from the ATV.

“These machines are not for horsing around,” Stoecklein said. “In our job they serve as a resource to get a job done.”

Langer took a cantaloupe and threw it up in there and let it hit concrete and it split in half and his demonstration caught the eye of the attentive group.

“I wanted you to see what can happen if you have an accident and particularly if you are not wearing a helmet and your head hits the ground hard,” Langer said. “At the very least you can have is brain damage from a concussion.”

Stoecklein told the children they should take an approved safety class before riding an ATV. One student said his father had given him thorough instructions before he could ride on an ATV. Stoecklein said that was very helpful, but he encouraged the youth to take a certified safety class before riding one.

The two instructors talked to the students about making sure an ATV is in good condition and wearing the proper attire, including helmets. They said the helmets are not just for children and that adults should wear them as well.

“Find a helmet that fits right to your head,” Langer said.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached by phone at 620-227-1822 or by email at dbergmeier@hpj.com.

Date: 10/7/2013

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