As a lifelong farmer and a volunteer firefighter since age 17, Steve Wettschurack knows that farming can be a dangerous occupation.
“As a very young child, I remember an incident where some people were on our farm loading out ear corn and it caved in on them,” said Wettschurack. “When you’re working with grain, things can go wrong in a hurry.”
For the last two years, Wettschurack has served as the instructor for Purdue University’s Farm Accident Rescue Program. Now with the help of a recent $25,000 grant from Farm Credit Mid-America’s Community Giving Program, Wettschurack will be able to provide his lifesaving training to countless more volunteer firefighters around Indiana and in neighboring states.
“We really appreciate Farm Credit’s supporting our efforts,” said Wettschurack. “As much as we can, we try to take our training to the volunteers, rather than have them make a four-hour trip to campus. This grant will allow us to continue to expand the training capabilities we’ll have at each of our off-campus sites.”
Since the program was started under the direction of Dr. Bill Field in 2010, Wettschurack has trained more than 1,600 rural fire/rescue and EMS personnel and commercial grain operation first responders in the eight-hour block of instruction. Since grain entrapment and related farm extrications are a very specialized form of rescue operation that very few emergency personnel— even in rural areas —are familiar with, word of Purdue’s program has quickly spread to other states. This has led to requests for training sessions in rural areas of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and Kentucky. With the help of the grant, the program’s goal is train an additional 1,500 emergency first responders.
Wettschurack first learned of Farm Credit’s Community Giving Program while at a farm show, when he was approached by Teri Shoemaker, a financial services associate with the Williamsport Farm Credit office. After learning more about the rescue training, Shoemaker encouraged Wettschurack to apply for the Farm Credit grant.
“We thought it was a really good idea to have rural fire departments trained in this type of rescue, since most personnel aren’t familiar with how to get someone out of a grain bin safely,” said Shoemaker, whose husband Mark is also a volunteer firefighter.
Shoemaker added that Farm Credit is currently going through a branding initiative, to ensure that what customers see in the marketplace really represents what they are now and what they want to be in the future. She explained that the Community Giving Program is a key element of Farm Credit’s core values—giving back to the communities they serve. In this particular case, Shoemaker said they saw Purdue’s program as one that would help protect farmers and other in farm-related occupations.
“We truly believe in this program,” said Shoemaker. “I’ve known someone who was trapped in a grain bin and didn’t survive. It’s important that we do our part to protect farmers and grain facility workers, and keep them around for their families.”