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PLUCKED FROM GRAIN SILO: Smith recalls being trapped in soybeans

April 2, 2012

Gary Smith — Post & Mail photo / Nicole Ott

COLUMBIA CITY — While most Whitley County residents were relaxing after a long work week on a Friday night (Jan. 6), more than 200 local people were working to save the life of a Columbia City man, who spent more than the equivalent of an entire work day stuck in a silo at Ag Plus on Raber Road.
Gary Smith, 55, was cleaning the silo, which contained about 1,000 bushels of wet, soggy soybeans, when he slid to the bottom of the sloped ground and lodged his boot in the 18-inch opening at the bottom of the bin.
“A lot of people think I fell,”Smith said. “I didn’t fall anywhere. I walked it right down. I was standing in the wrong place and the hole got plugged. I was chopping at it with a scraper, when I knocked the plug out. It sucked me in.”
An accident that may have seemed harmless at first, turned into a potentially life threatening situation after Smith spent nearly eight hours encompassed by heavy, soggy, soybeans.
“I was just like a boat anchor,” Smith said. “It was annoying not being able to help myself. I’m not a ‘here, you do it’ kind of guy.”
After one and a half hours of effort by Smith’s coworkers, the Jefferson Township Fire Department was called to the scene.
“Three of us were getting a house ready for a practice burn when the call went out,” JTFD Capt. Zach Rumsyre said. “I had plans to go out with my girlfriend that night. When the call went out, I thought, ‘Ok, lets get this goofball out of the silo so I can get on with my plans.’”
Rumsyre, Craig Mattax and Brad Arnold, Captain of the Washington Township Fire Department, went to the scene, just a few miles from their location, expecting to pull Smith out of the silo and carry on with their evening as planned.
But after a couple more hours of unsuccessful attempts, Rumsyre called in the Fort Wayne Special Operations and Rescue Team (SORT), which specializes in unique circumstances, such as Smith’s.
With his feet stuck in the hole, and the grain not very deep, Smith was safe — for the moment.
“I wasn’t going to sink any deeper,” Smith said. “But if more of it came, I wasn’t going to be able to get out of the way.”
Though most of the time Smith didn’t feel his life was threatened, he said the longer he was stuck, the more he thought about the possibilities.
“I had all kinds of time to do the math,” Smith said. “I figured I was above the grain by two feet.”
But as Smith looked around at potential “avalanches” of grain, he realized the seriousness of the circumstances.
“I looked around — That’ll cover me up. That’ll cover me up. Oh, that one is going to kill me.
“I had it all going through my mind, what’s going to happen?”
As workers dug Smith out, nearly to his shoes, more grain would come down and they’d be back to square one.
“They finally just emptied it (the silo) after hours of that,” Smith said. “They took it clear down to bare floor.”
Though Smith made it out of the silo, getting him on the helicopter to transport him to the hospital was another challenge.
“My idea was — they’re going to get me out of here, I’m going to smell really bad and were going to joke about this on the back of the EMS (ambulance), then I’m going to walk my happy a(expletive) over to my half-ton pickup and go home.
“Boy was I wrong.”
Medics told Smith that he not only needed to go to the hospital, but that the Samaritan was parked on Ind. 14 waiting for him.
“When he said helicopter, I said hell no,” Smith said. “I have no use for heights.”
But after some persuasion by the EMTs, he changed his mind.
“The EMT on the Samaritan said I was compressed long enough that I could have kidney trouble or blood clots. He said if they put me on EMS it could take 20 minutes to get to Fort Wayne,” Smith said.
“He (the EMT) said if there was a blood clot and it moved, I could be dead and there’s nothing they could do about it.”
In the helicopter, it took approximately six minutes to get from the scene to the hospital.
The pilot told him, “If you don’t like it, close your eyes.”
“I took two rides in the Samaritan all in one — my first and my last. That's all I needed,” Smith said. “It didn’t help my fear of heights one bit.”
At the hospital, Smith’s levels balanced out quickly, and he was released by Sunday afternoon (Jan. 8), but not after drawing a fan club.
“It was like everywhere I went, they threw a red carpet down,” Smith said.
One nurse walked in and was honored to treat a famous patient.
“Do you know who you are?,” she said.
“Yeah,” said Smith.
“No. I’m serious. You’re that guy who was in the silo. It was on Dateline. Wow. You’re like a celebrity.”
“No, I’m just an old clod kicker that got his foot stuck.”
Smith said he’s sure he and his coworkers will be more cautious at work.
“It gives everybody a reality check,” Smith said. “Maybe it was good in a round-about way. We have a very dangerous job and everybody needs to be more careful.
“If the grim reaper was going to get me, he just missed his chance,” Smith said.

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