After years of owning my own tree care company and doing countless jobs without any incident it finally happened. We had an accident. I’ve always wondered about how I would react in an emergency situation and everyone can always build things up in their head to be bigger or better than what they truly are. Some guys I talk to must picture themselves throwing their Batarang to retrieve the first aid kit all the while with their cape flowing in the wind. Others admit that there is no way they can deal with someone else’s blood anywhere near them.
Despite the exaggerations above I felt I would be able to handle an emergency situation considerably well as I had been trained in CPR and first aid multiple times. The best thing to remember from that training is that every situation is different and DON’T panic. You can prepare the best you can with first aid kits, blood stopper packs, and eye wash but it won’t prepare you for someone that you spend about as much time if not more time with than your significant other bleeding profusely from a chainsaw cut. What that training will do is prepare you to work on autopilot and to get the situation under control as fast as possible.
My day had started off as any other day. My crew was heading 1.5 miles out into a county drain right away to clear large trees from the drain bottom. This was easy work, set lines in trees, notching them, and pulling them over. One of my workers had decided they didn’t want to work hard that day. When they arrived at work they were wearing shoes opposed to work boots. This should have been a sign right off the bat but instead, needing the help, I told him to still come with us.
As we dropped trees, he stayed out of the mud on top of the bank. His job was even easier, just drag the smaller branches off the bank. We continued to work for the first half of the day without incident. Drop trees, drag brush, drop trees, drag brush. Simple.
I like my saws sharp as I’m sure you all do as well. I like to sharpen my teeth to more of a point than the factory markings instruct. I don’t know if they cut any better but it makes me think they will. My large saw lay on the bank freshly sharpened just waiting to lay into some major wood.
As I worked on the opposite bank I happened to look across the drain. At first glance I noticed ALL of the gear we had with us neatly stacked in a pile. I found this odd as we had ropes that needed to be pulled from multiple dropped trees. Upon second glance I noticed my groundsman with his forearm wrapped in his hoody with blood smeared all over the front. Immediately I asked him what happened. He said he cut himself with the chainsaw.
When people talk of chainsaw cuts most often we hear chainsaws don’t cut, they remove. This is exactly what was going through my head. A CHAINSAW CUT!!! I imagined bone, severed tendons, meat, fat, skin hanging. I guess this is a lot like the guys who picture themselves with a cape swinging in to the rescue. We like to exaggerate things. Our minds love to imagine, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst. Thankfully, I had imagined the worst.
He had managed to grab a piece of brush which was right on the edge of the drain. He lost his footing because of his poor choice in footwear and landed quite directly on the blade of the saw. He caught his wrist on those super pointed teeth that I like on my saws. The teeth had proceeded to rip him open quite wide. This is when you go into autopilot. This is when you just do.
We grabbed all the gear and hiked it out as fast as we possibly could. As we neared the vehicle I started to panic as I had no idea where the nearest hospital was. We were on a new section of work that I hadn’t really been to before. Our pre job briefing was made up of grabbing gear and walking out to the work. There were a lot of things that could have been done differently and done better but that is hindsight now. Once we were back to the vehicle I proceeded to bandage his arm the best we could with our first aid kit. As we stood next to the truck wrapping his arm in bandages he mentioned that he didn't feel good. Without warning, he collapsed backwards and smashed his head on the number of my truck. This situation escalated quickly!
We laid him down for a while and helped him come back to. We then ran to a neighbor’s house to find where the closest hospital was. We drove as quickly as we could to get him there and they stitched him up good as new. A scar and some muddy clothes are all the material things that remain of the incident. A completely different work ethic and job planning are what I took from the incident. Job briefings are paramount now. Knowing where the closest hospital is located and how to get there are top priorities. Proper work attire is also key to success.
These lessons like many others are written in blood. Many of the regulations and procedures we follow everyday are written in blood as well. Everyone needs to stay safe. Our job is dangerous and the hazards are always piled against us. If we prepare accordingly we can change the odds!