RURAL OAKWOOD — Kelli Maxwell still remembers when a classmate caught his arm in an auger on his family's farm near Oakland.
"He lost his arm," she recalled of the boy, then 12. "They reattached it, but it never grew. It never worked right again."
That's one reason why Maxwell, now a teacher at Prairieview-Ogden South, was thrilled that her students had a chance to attend a Progressive Agriculture Safety Day at the Vermilion County Fairgrounds east of Oakwood on Tuesday.
"We have a lot of kids from livestock farms and grain farms, and they're around this equipment every day," she said. "It's important that they and their friends are aware of the dangers and know how to be safe."
The program, sponsored by Carle's Center for Rural Health and Farm Safety and Bunge Milling, was put on for more than 300 fifth- and sixth-graders from Prairieview-Ogden, Rossville-Alvin and Bismarck-Henning schools and Mary Miller Junior High School in Georgetown.
Throughout the day, groups of students rotated to different stations where volunteers from Carle, Bunge and other area businesses and agencies put on interactive demonstrations about farm equipment, grain, electrical, firearms, road, Internet, fire, all-terrain vehicles, chemical and sun safety as well as living a healthy lifestyle.
"As a Level 1 trauma center, a lot of these incidents come to us," said Amy Rademaker, a farm safety specialist at Carle and the event organizer, who also organizes other safety programs for students across central Illinois.
"We want teach students how to take responsibility for their own safety whether it's on the farm or in their own home. Then we want them to go home and talk about what they've learned with their parents. If they're ever put in a situation, they will have the tools to know how to respond," she continued, adding, the goal is to reduce the number of accident-related injuries and deaths.
At one station put on by Occupational Safety and Health Administration representatives, students learned about some of the hidden hazards on a working farm including grain storage bins. At one demonstration, they watched how quickly a toy person got sucked into a bin full of corn after someone opened the gate. At another, they got to feel how difficult it would be to pull themselves out of the grain if they were being sucked in by pulling the rope of a contraption demonstrating that powerful force.
"No matter how hard you pull, you wouldn't be able to get out," OSHA compliance officer Mark Rzasa told Maxwell's students, adding it would take special rescue equipment to do that.
Nearby, Scott Reed talked to Rossville-Alvin students about the "10 commandments" of firearms safety.
"The No. 1 rule is to watch where you're pointing the muzzle," said Reed, a risk consultant for Old National Insurance and youth programs coordinator for the Vermilion County chapter of Pheasants Forever. "You always want to make sure it's pointed in a safe direction."
At another station, Jon Foley, a Bunge mill operator, and Mark Steinbaugh of Birkey's, showed Mary Miller students why they must be alert when around running tractors or other equipment, and to not wear clothing or shoes with strings or loose ends that can get caught in their moving parts. Students gasped when Steinbaugh turned on a tractor hooked to a hay baler, and a straw dummy that was near the power take-off was torn apart.
"Be aware of your surroundings," Foley said, adding accidents can happen in a nanosecond. "Bunge always preaches to us about safety about watching our clothing because we work around a lot of conveyors about our fingers. We want to make sure we go home with everything we came with."
Some Bismarck-Henning students said one of their favorite demonstrations covered chemical safety and the importance of keeping items — from medicine to household cleaners — in their proper containers, labeled correctly and out of the reach of young children. When volunteers Dana Mitchell and Krysta Ragle asked them to approach a display that put similar-looking items — such as Mr. Clean and Mountain Dew and migraine pills and Tic-Tacs — side-by-side, they had to choose the item that wouldn't harm them if they swallowed it or too much of it.
"The water and the rubbing alcohol is really hard to tell apart," Mitchell said. "They're both clear."
"But you can't drink rubbing alcohol," Ragle said, adding that depending on the amount, it can cause blindness or even death.