Cleaning Up After a Storm

Families trapped in their homes. Trees coming straight at you while working. As a firefighter in frequently storm-hit Mississippi, Woodman Speights has plenty of experience of working with chainsaws in tough conditions. Like the dangerous task of storm cleanup – something that should only be done by trained professionals. “I’ve seen some serious damage,” he says.

Cleaning up an area hit by a storm represents one of the most hazardous tasks when working with chainsaws. Statistically, there are more injuries during the cleanup process than during the actual storm. Woodman Speights and his colleagues at the Starkville Fire Department are always ready to go to work with their chainsaws close at hand. During his latest storm-related mission, the cleanup work was crucial to get to the emergency situation – a family home hit by a large oak tree.

“We had a call about a large tree coming in through the roof of a house. But to get there we had to clear the streets from trees that had fallen all over the place.”

Woodman’s crew used their chainsaws to clear the way. A task that included several challenges such as electrical fires, fallen wires and debris.

“The most important thing is to stay calm. If you start doing things without thinking, you will get hurt. And this is a very bad situation to get hurt in,” Speights says.

Thanks to volunteers who helped remove cut-off limbs and debris, the first part of the clean up was done in 30 minutes and the firefighters could enter the house. That’s when they discovered that the crown of the huge tree had completely blocked the hallway, trapping the family in one of the upstairs bedrooms.

“We started by checking the limbs for tension, but there wasn’t any. So we cut off the branches, opening up a path for the family.”

7 Professional Storm Clean-up Tips

1. Take the right equipment

You need to make sure that you take the proper safety apparel for operating a chainsaw. You also need to regularly check the safety features of the equipment so that they’re up to speed. Also, take a first aid kit and extra fuel and oil for your equipment.

And remember, the very best thing to take when working with chainsaws is a companion. Always avoid working alone.

“We usually have a commander who assigns the team specific tasks. Often there are also volunteers helping out. It’s important that everyone involved communicates properly before the work starts, since it can be hard to hear anything over the sound of the chainsaw and the ear protection,” says Speights.

2. Planning your work

When approaching the storm-hit area, always take time to assess the situation. Are there any fallen wires or debris in the crowns of the trees? Is there tension in the trees and are there any uprooted trees? You should not attack the area before you have had a good look at what you have ahead of you. It is also very important that you plan an escape route, in case anything happens.

“The only time you want to rush during a clean up is when you see a tree falling towards you. That’s when you need to be able to just drop your saw and hit the escape route,” says Speights.

3. Cutting where there’s tension

One frequently occurring challenge when it comes to storm clean up is tension in fallen trees. Tension can cause unexpected movement when cutting the tree, making the limbs pop out and hurt you, or hit your equipment, or cause the trunk to move and make you stuck.

Speights explains how he attacks a fallen tree with tension:

“We start by cutting all the small branches off to get a better view of the situation. Then we take off as much weight as possible before cutting the limbs with tension. We continue to make a small cut on the tension side, to relieve a bit of tension, and slowly and in a controlled way make three to four additional small cuts until the tension is completely relieved. The important thing is to take it slowly and step-by-step.”