Dan Neenan became a volunteer firefighter in 1991 and quickly saw something that would become a huge part of his career. First responders in small towns like his often didn’t have the training and equipment they needed to save lives on the farm.
So he set out to change that. Now more than 30 years later, Neenan embodies how and why to be a volunteer firefighter. He’s a paramedic specialist and firefighter II with the Epworth and Centralia/Peosta, Iowa, fire departments. He’s also the director of the National Educational Center for Ag Safety (NECAS) that provides valuable resources like grain bin rescue tubes to rural first responders. And through a close partnership with Nationwide, he’s been able to deliver what he saw lacking when he first started fighting fires and saving lives.
“There are very few responders available for a fire, medical or agricultural emergency that can happen in and around our rural communities,” said Neenan, who joined the NECAS staff in 2000. “We started by developing safety and rescue programs that are agriculturally based.”
Andrew McCrea talks with Dan Neenan, a leader for volunteer firefighters and farm safety, to discuss the impact Dan has made on farm safety.
Hands-on training for firefighters and farmers
A huge part of Neenan’s work at NECAS is providing training for rural firefighters and farmers. Much of his instruction is hands-on and involves simulating some of the most hazardous working conditions and settings on and around farms like:
- Tractor rollovers
- Combine augers
- Grain bins
- Confined manure storage
“We develop hands-on training programs like our grain bin rescue tube. Farmers and firefighters are alike in that they don’t want to sit and listen to somebody talk for 8 hours,” Neenan said. “They want to go out and get their hands dirty. And do something.”
What Neenan’s work means to farm communities
In the almost 20 years since beginning these programs and simulators, Neenan said it’s not always easy to gauge his success. But with around 10,000 first responders having completed training, it’s clear he’s leading a team that’s making a big difference. And saving lives.
“From the safety side, it’s really hard to count an incident that didn’t happen,” he said. “From the rescue side, it’s a different story. Thirty-two departments have completed our grain bin safety training and have gone on to rescue someone in a bin.”
Neenan has led lifesaving efforts. But he’s quick to point out he’s no hero. To him, he’s just one member of a larger team — including Nationwide — who has made a lifesaving difference in farm towns around the country. It’s part of why he is a volunteer firefighter.
“A hero is somebody who sees a house on fire, has no training and still goes in to rescue the kids inside. To me, that’s a hero,” Neenan said. “Instead, I try to be a well-trained, professional volunteer. When we are properly trained and professional, good things will happen.”
Success takes a team effort
The team aspect of the NECAS work Neenan leads is the biggest reason for its success. It’s not unlike what makes rural firefighters so good at what they do. And why many become volunteer firefighters in their communities.
“If you look at the partnership we have with Nationwide and all the partners who have come together to donate or help make something like Grain Bin Safety Week happen, do I play a part in it? Yes. Am I the only reason? I don’t think so,” Neenan said. “It takes a team to do that. Just like a fire department.”
Agriculture will remain a hazardous way of life. Despite the lifesaving work he’s done in leading NECAS, Neenan calls on everyone in farm towns to do what they can to contribute to future efforts.
“Volunteer services are hurting for people. There are very few first responders available for fire, medical or agricultural emergencies that can happen,” Neenan said. “Reach out and see what volunteer opportunities are available and how you can help.”
To learn more about grain bin safety, visit here.