POSTED APRIL, 2018
IN THE NAME OF SAFETY: ARBORISTS AND FIREFIGHTERS TRAIN TOGETHER IN AERIAL RESCUES
In the arboriculture industry, the terms “production” and “dangerous” form an eerily close association. Production workers are what make our industry tick, whether climbing, rigging, sawing, or chipping. Tree climbing, however, is inherently dangerous work: there is always the risk of loss of life with climbers operating saws up to 100 feet in the air on ropes. All reputable arborists are trained in the skills associated with aerial rescue, but there is complexity in carrying them out in real life-or-death situations, and extra assistance is often required by municipal fire departments and emergency response services.
When the Unthinkable Happens
A tragic illustration of the dangers of our industry occurred on May 27th of last year in Chamblee, Georgia. A climber working 75-100 feet up in a tree was struck by a section of the tree he was attempting to remove. The other members of his crew called 911 immediately, and both the fire department and an arborist working in the vicinity arrived on the scene within 30 minutes. Despite their quick response, neither could reach the climber in time to save his life. It is likely that severe head trauma from the impact of the cut section on the tree led to his death. The team’s task then went from “rescue” to the grim one of “recovery” of the body. A tree care related aerial rescue needs to happen in 30 minutes or less in order to render proper aid to the injured person. The average time for a firefighter rescue, however, is about 4 hours. This may be related to the basic approach to first response rescue, which is mentioned later. The recovery was completed with the fire department’s ladder truck in this instance. This did not alleviate the team’s devastation at not having reached him in time for a more positive outcome.
Through Tragedy Comes an Opportunity to Learn
The Georgia Arborist Association (GAA) promotes safety and professionalism in the Arboricultural Industry in Georgia, and takes tragic incidents like these very seriously. Association President Rusty Lee, a former firefighter himself, was called to the site of the accident on that fateful day, and became determined to derive something positive from the grief that gripped the Association in that moment. He thus became inspired to organize the largest aerial rescue training seminar of firefighters ever conducted in the state of Georgia. Rusty knew from his experience as a fireman that most rescue teams are not familiar with arborist climbing equipment. Additionally, if their ladder cannot access the injured climber due to power lines or lack of access points, there is rarely an alternate plan for a rescue. Most often, once the fire department arrives, the scene is closed to non-firefighters, even if an arborist trained in aerial rescue could retrieve an injured climber much more quickly.
Industries Align Towards a Common Goal: Safety
Since the need and urgency for such training was established, three days were set aside in early January, 2018. Rusty arranged for three shifts of fire fighter rescue teams from four of the largest fire departments in Metro Atlanta. The need to provide the training over three days was twofold: the classes needed to be small enough to allow the opportunity for everyone to participate in the skill-building, and fire department schedules are most often set up as one day on, two days off. The three- day span therefore allowed all of the personnel in each department to take the training without the possibility of being interrupted by a call. North American Training Solutions (NATS) led the activity on the grounds of Stone Mountain Park. NATS has been in the business of training the arboricultural industry for over 10 years; its staff has over 200 years of combined experience with the skill sets required for tree care, including aerial rescue. The group was represented by experts Phillip Kelley, Warren Williams, and Ed Carpenter for the three-day workshop. GAA member tree companies from around Metro-Atlanta also assisted by sending their best climbers trained in aerial rescue. Other support personnel from these companies provided and prepared hot coffee, refreshments and hot lunches on the bitterly cold days of the training. The GAA Member Companies assisting were Arbor Equity, Arborguard, Boutte Tree, The City of Columbus, Georgia, Davey Tree, Downey Trees, Eric Gansauer, New Urban Forestry, and Cobb County Firefighters Steve Bradley and Scotty Lee Pope, who have tree care experience.
The result: approximately 150 firefighters were exposed to arboricultural rescue methods and equipment with over 30 volunteer arborists and six climbing stations, including rope and spike climbs. Participants learned the basic difference in rescue strategies. Firefighters and First Responders have a “Top-Down” approach: they reach people in tall buildings and towers with tall ladders and helicopters. Arborists, on the other hand, use a “Bottom-Up” approach: they start from the ground and work up into a living organism that moves, flexes, and can break. This difference requires re-thinking the approach to rescue, as well as the learning of challenging new skills. The level of dedication of both the rescue teams and trainers was high all 3 days: the proof of everyone’s seriousness was in the braving of the temperatures, which dropped into the teens.
“Watching the training and the dedication of both the trainers and rescue teams was inspirational,” commented Rusty. “Lunch was served and friendships were fostered. Some had never climbed a tree before, while other municipalities had highly experienced rescue teams. Regardless, everyone left with more knowledge and exposure that will hopefully save a life.”
Production, Dangerous, Prepared.
Losing a member of our industry is devastating, but when that tragedy leads to inspiration, some of the pain is lifted. The Georgia Arborist Association is dedicated to looking ahead with more training and more communication. The organization has donated climbing equipment to fire departments that did not have money in their budget to pay for it. Many ideas were shared during the training, and everyone involved, arborists and firefighters alike, came away with an enhanced sense of cooperation and improved skills in aerial rescue. Hopefully a third watchword will become even more closely associated with the terms “production” and “dangerous” when referring to the arboriculture industry. That word is “prepared.”