Father and his two sons dead after being trapped in silo on Penns Valley farm

MSN  22th Sep 2022

Sep. 21—POTTER TOWNSHIP — Three people died Wednesday after they were trapped in a silo on an Amish farm in Potter Township, pushing the number of accidental deaths

at the homestead this year to four.

Andrew Beiler, 47, and his two sons — a 19-year-old and a 14-year-old whose names were not released — died of asphyxiation due to silo gases, Centre County Deputy Coroner Jason Brooks wrote in a statement. Their deaths were ruled accidental.

"Silo gas is a dangerous thing," Centre County Farm Bureau President Dave Fetterolf said. "There's no warning. It happens quick."

First responders were dispatched about 7 a.m. to the farm along the 2900 block of Lower Brush Valley Road. The silo is about 70 feet tall, Centre Hall Volunteer Fire Company Lt. Austin Brown said.

Silo gas — formed by the natural fermentation of chopped silage shortly after it is placed in the silo — is not one of the leading causes of farming fatalities, but can be one of the most toxic.

Carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are two of the most prevalent gases found in silos. The former is colorless and odorless, while the latter has a strong bleach-like odor and can appear yellow to reddish-brown.

Beiler and his sons, Penn State agricultural and biological engineering professor Judd Michael said, most likely inhaled carbon dioxide.

One of Beiler's sons was working in the silo when his father checked on him, Michael said, citing first responder reports. The eldest Beiler jumped in to help, but was overcome by the gas. His second son followed, but was also overcome.

"A daughter may have gone up to look and, luckily, she did not go in to follow them because she would have been overcome as well. ... This could have been even worse if the daughter and others in the family had gone in," Michael said. "This is often what happens with tragedies around farms where one family member or one employee will be overcome by some type of gas, and then someone else goes and tries to rescue them and they are also overcome. This is how we have these multiple fatality events."

Brown said firefighters used two fans to try and save Beiler and his two sons. One pulled the toxic air out from the top of the silo, while the other pushed fresh air in. They were at the farm for more than four hours.

Brown, who said he's been in the fire service for seven years, said this was the first silo rescue of his career.

The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration was called to the farm, but is not investigating because it had no employees, a spokesperson said.

The Logan, Undine, Miles and Alpha fire companies, as well as Penns Valley EMS and Centre LifeLink EMS assisted.

A 16-year-old boy died at the farm in March. He was trapped under a horse-drawn manure spreader that weighed upward of 10 tons. His death was ruled accidental.

Pennsylvania recorded 16 farm and agricultural fatalities in 2021, Michael said. The state recorded an average of about 29 deaths annually during the previous six years.

Men are much more likely to be fatally injured than women and the Anabaptist community recorded relatively high fatality rates, a 2020 study found.