28 October 2017

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At approximately 7:26 pm on Saturday, October 28, 2017, the Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company, along with mutual aid companies, was dispatched for what was reported as a Large Structure Fire in the 8600 block of (Maryland 20) Rock Hall Road. This is located just outside Fairlee, between the intersections of Old Fairlee Road and (Maryland 298) Fairlee Road.

Units arrived to find a large grain tank, equipped to dry grain, on fire. There was a relatively light haze of smoke issuing from around the opening where the dryer unit is located. The farm manager reported there was approximately 10,000 bushels of corn within the affected tank.

After a period of consultation, it was determined the tank would need to be unloaded in order to get at the corn that was burning. Unfortunately, because of the equipment design and material, the usual means for moving corn out of the tank was not going to be possible. Normally, grain is augered from the bottom of the tank over to the grain “elevator”. The elevator uses a continuous chain of bins to lift the grain to the top. There, by switching around the set-up, grain is then pulled by gravity into other tanks or into a pipe for loading trucks.

In this case, using the grain elevator was undesired because the bins lifting the grain are plastic. The heated corn could possibly melt the lifting bins, rendering the grain elevator useless. The alternative was to move a portable auger in place, then cut a hole above it. This allows the heated corn to spill into the auger. From there, it’s lifted into waiting trucks.

To prepare for this operation, preparations needed to be made. First, the trucks that needed to accept the hot corn were still loaded with freshly harvested corn. These trucks needed to be emptied, with this corn going into the “Wet Tank”, located to the left of the affected tank in these photos. In normal operations, corn is pulled from the Wet Tank, then dried before being stored in another tank, prior to being shipped out. Some people may wonder why corn is dried. In order for long term storage, the moisture content has to be reduced to a percentage in the low teens. This will help prevent mold & mildew from developing on the stored product.

Once the trucks were unloaded, the equipment layout had to be modified. In order to access the affected tank, the auger from a neighboring tank first had to be removed. The portable auger was then jockeyed into position. Once everything was aligned, using a gasoline saw equipped with a metal blade, a hole was cut in the side of the tank. This is probably the trickiest, most hazardous part of the operation. In some of the photographs, you can see the firefighter with the saw has a safety line attached. This is a precaution should something go wrong.

Once the hole was placed in the tank, unloading was briefly stopped when the auger became overwhelmed. It was necessary to clear it, then devise a measure to control how fast corn was spilling out. Once that was accomplished, unloading proceeded at a slow but steady rate.

While unloading was being accomplished, it was determined the level of heat rise under the tank was becoming a concern. Using Engine 6-7 (Chestertown), Tanker 4 (Kennedyville) and Tanker 6 (Chestertown), water was pumped under the tank to help cool things.

This incident proved to be lengthy affair. Our last unit, Engine 6-7, finally cleared about 4:30 am. The incident was turned back over to the Farm Manager to handle. There were no injuries to emergency responders or civilians.

Companies operating on this incident:
Chestertown VFC
Rock Hall VFC
Kennedyville VFC
Betterton VFC
Church Hill VFC
Kent & Queen Annes Rescue Squad
Kent County Emergency Medical Services



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