Brewster fire chief: ‘We’re on the downhill slide’

BREWSTER -- After six days on the scene of a fire inside a grain silo at New Vision Cooperative Elevator in Brewster, Brewster Fire Chief John Garmer said the firefight is "on the downhill slide."...

Area fire crews prepare Thursday to start pumping water to the top of the grain silos at the New Vision Cooperative Elevator in Brewster. Brewster Fire Chief John Garmer said they are pumping 7,500 gallons of water per hour into the silos. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

BREWSTER - After six days on the scene of a fire inside a grain silo at New Vision Cooperative Elevator in Brewster, Brewster Fire Chief John Garmer said the firefight is “on the downhill slide.”

Firefighters continued to be on scene periodically through the weekend to pump water onto grain still in the bins to cool it down.

“The fire is not going to spread or go any farther, but it’s possible it could rekindle until it’s unloaded,” Garmer said Tuesday.

A sizeable crew worked Monday to unload the contents of one bin and transfer the grain to another bin, he shared, adding that New Vision employees continue to monitor the scene as well.

The Brewster Fire Department initially responded to the New Vision Cooperative Elevator in Brewster shortly before 10 a.m. June 10 to a report of a fire in a grain silo that contained approximately 15,000 bushels of corn.


Throughout the first 31 hours, crews worked to cool the grain while also trying to remove it from the silo. At approximately 5:43 p.m. June 11, a grain cap of charred corn collapsed in the bin, leading to an explosion that caused debris to fall from the top of the concrete silo. One firefighter from Worthington was injured by falling debris.

By Wednesday, infrared imaging equipment and drones detected the fire had spread from the initial bin to adjacent bins - one containing 55,000 bushels of soybeans and the other 4,500 bushels of corn. Additional firefighters were called in to relieve the Brewster crew, and pages went out for mutual aid with the primary request being water tankers to haul water to the site.

In all, nine fire departments and approximately 100 volunteer firefighters spent time on the scene between Monday and Saturday.

As of Tuesday, Garmer said New Vision employees continue to monitor the situation and noted there is still some burnt grain inside the silos.

“They had quite a crew (Monday) backing trucks and semis in and moving grain … getting the whole thing unloaded,” Garmer said.

Jared Rozeboom, the southern Minnesota fire service specialist with the state fire marshal’s office, was called in June 11 by Garmer to help organize the response efforts due to the magnitude of the firefight. He spent four days at the site.

Rozeboom, who works from his home office in Hills, said this was the third grain elevator fire he’s responded to within the last year and a half in his 24-county service area, which spans southern Minnesota from the South Dakota to the Wisconsin state lines. This, however, was the first one that involved an explosion.

“The grain elevator industry is very aware of the potential for explosions in their elevators,” Rozeboom said. “They take efforts to keep dust to a minimum. Unfortunately, it happens from time to time.”


Rozeboom’s job at Brewster was to assist the department with whatever it needed, from lining up crews to organizing the “almost overwhelming” donations of food and water people brought to the scene.

“In Greater Minnesota - and especially in smaller communities - that is typically what we see. You almost have to have a separate area set up,” Rozeboom said.

That’s what was done in Brewster. A dedicated area was established for donations of water, Gatorade, food and other items.

“One company brought out hardhats,” Rozeboom said, adding that they were put to good use when people from the insurance company arrived on the scene.

Another company showed up with an entire pallet of bottled water in the back of a pickup truck, but without a forklift or the manpower to unload it, just the top layer from the stack was graciously accepted.

“There were donuts and rolls in the morning, and usually around lunch, people would bring roasters of barbecue,” Rozeboom said. “The community was very supportive.”

Rozeboom said the response effort was “top notch” and commended Garmer, Assistant Fire Chief Dave McNab and First Captain Lyle Oberloh for doing “an outstanding job of organizing and maintaining the response” throughout the incident.

“An incident like this is taxing on any department,” Rozeboom said. “They were very forward-thinking - protecting their service area, protecting their people and taking care of their firefighters.”

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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