Lind FFA alumni bring youth, safety together
By MATTHEW WEAVER
LIND, Wash. -- Dennis Swinger Jr. says it's OK to cheat.
When the Lind, Wash., farmer advises a nervous teenager who's running a combine for the first time, he usually offers this tip: Go where the others have gone. Follow their tracks.
The kids usually look at Swinger like he's just asked them to commit a mortal sin, but Swinger laughs and says it's an expensive piece of equipment. The point is to get them feeling comfortable behind the wheel.
Swinger was one of several farmers and ag company representatives offering high school youth safety lessons May 27 during the Lind FFA Alumni Farm Equipment Safety Training Day.
Students received a general refresher course on agricultural safety and first aid. They also drove farm equipment and worked with high-lift jacks and augers, considered the most dangerous pieces of machinery on the farm.
The alumni also bring in industry professionals to teach safety, said Lind FFA Adviser Andy Williams.
Williams and Randy Kulm, also of Lind, said the program is growing, with more businesses interested in becoming involved. Kulm said the goal is also pairing youths in need of jobs with ag employers in need of workers.
The training day attracted 25 to 30 kids, Williams said.
"Safety is so important," Kulm said. "Once you're hurt, you're hurt for life."
Safety is a lesson Swinger knows well. He was injured in an accident in the 1980s.
"There's a lot of kids here that haven't grown up on a farm," he said. "Anything that happens to you on these machines, you're not going to shrug off."
Several local companies and farmers participated in the program. Swinger thinks that's because they see a need.
"We find that everything these kids have ever driven, they hop in, close the door, turn the key and it starts," he said, noting he's had to explain the concept of chokes and clutches to his workers. "We're starting from square one. Some of these kids who are going to go out and try to get a job, hopefully will be at square two or three by the time they turn loose."
The safety and first training represent a good opportunity, said Derrick Laird, a junior from Lind, as farmers are looking for workers with that experience.
Drew Hartz, a junior from Ritzville, Wash., said it was his first year in the course, which primarily served as a reminder.
"It's good to know all this if you're going to be around this big equipment," he said. "It's good to be safe."
Maya Wahl, a freshman from Lind, has experience on her family's dryland farm, driving tractor almost daily during harvest.
"It's a good experience," she said. "I didn't really know what to check on the combine, because I've never run combine before. This year, I will be able to help on combine."