For most of my adult life I have avoided situations where I might need to be rescued. I end up doing some pretty stupid stuff sometimes, but I have never wanted to be one of those people who gets so in over their heads that emergency personnel need to be called in to save them from themselves.
This belief system was engrained and solidified in me when I lived in Arizona. I lived in Flagstaff for a few years and spent a significant amount of time photographing the Grand Canyon. It never ceased to amaze me how many people would overestimate their abilities, hike down the canyon, and then couldn’t get themselves back out. They would have to be rescued. Helicopters. Repellers. Getting strapped into rescue baskets and air lifted out.
Today I put these convictions aside and asked to be put in a situation I would not be able to get out of. The Kalispell Fire Department has been doing confined space rescue and grain engulfment training for the last couple of shifts. Well, as I watched this it occurred to me that the picture I really wanted was from inside the tube looking up at the rescuers. One of the firefighters volunteered to take this picture for me, but then it would have been his picture, not mine. The only solution was get myself engulfed.
Let me back pedal this story a bit. I shot the first round of this on Friday with B Shift. It’s Friday and that means dance night so I was wearing white pants and my dance shoes as I arrived at the local grain elevators having no idea what I was going to be doing. I started off by taking pictures from the balcony where most of the firefighters were observing. But that was extremely limiting. I wanted shots from out in the truck. In order to get up in the grain the firefighters (specifically Chief Dedman) insisted I get safety geared up. That meant the most heavy duty climbing harness I’ve ever seen and a helmet before I was allowed into the grain truck. Well to make a long story less long, by the time I got out of the truck and finished with the photos my lovely white pants were covered in dingy yellow grain dust. And as for my dance shoes, almost as soon as I put my feet into the grain my shoes were filled with the highly bothersome kernels.
So today, when I knew what I was going to be getting into (literally), I wore my least favorite jeans, and when I got up to the top of the truck I took my shoes off. Good plan, right? Yeah. Not so much.
This is Montana. It is barely spring here. Sure, we’ve had a few nice days, but it’s still mostly cold. And the grain that has been stored in outdoor bins, well, that stuff is freezing. For the first minute of this being bare footed in the grain it felt heavenly, but that quickly faded and then it just felt cold. Two hours into this exercise in endurance I couldn’t feel my toes anymore.
Luckily for me the guys from C Shift, let me take the part of the victim, get my shots and get out of there.
This was a unique experience. It starts with getting trapped in the grain. They had me stand in the center of the truck and then someone opened the doors that let the grain out of the truck and into the collection bins in the floor. As I stood there sinking I suddenly got very nervous. I am not naturally claustrophobic — normally I find confined spaces rather comforting. Turns out I am not comforted at all when I am trapped in those small spaces. Once I was in about waist deep and the grain had settled I was well and truly stuck. I felt so helpless and totally at the mercy of others. The firefighters are all great and I trust them completely, but it’s hard for me to put myself so much into someone else’s hands. When you are stuck you have to depend on them to save you, it’s a humbling experience.
They got me out just fine (obviously since I am here blogging about the experience). With my bare feet they had to be a little extra cautious in setting up the grain engulfment rescue tube, five sections of inter-locking metal that allow rescuers to stabilize the grain around the victim and then vacuum it out, once they remove enough grain from immediately around you, then you can start to wiggle and climb your way out. Other than that, there weren’t any problems. And hey, I got the shot I was after. And it’s mine. I didn’t hand my camera off to anyone else to get this shot for me. I walked away from this with another layer of respect added to how I feel about first responders and with photos I was very happy with.
Now all I have to do is wait and see if there is enough room in tomorrows paper for at least two photos. Apparently there is a friendly rivalry between the shifts and they get bragging rights for being in the paper. I of course love this, because that just means more photos for me. :—)
Till next time…