Aaron Feather discusses the importance of aerial rescue training in TCI Magazine

Man climbing up tree

In December, CVTS-L’s Safety and Training Director Aaron Feather published an article in TCI Magazine discussing the costs and benefits of including aerial rescue in a tree care company’s training regimen. The magazine is an industry trade journal, and the content of the article was written with industry professionals in mind. We felt, however, that the article also provides valuable insight into how CVTS-L’s commitment to safety gets our arborists home safely.

The article begins with a question: “Is aerial rescue worth practicing?” which is followed immediately by the obvious answer: “Yes!”

Feather than draws from his real-world experience training crews at CVTS-L and other tree care companies to illustrate just how wrong things can go in the field and how training beforehand remains the best solution.

Here are seven surprising takeaways from Aaron Feather’s “Is Aerial Rescue Worth Practicing?”

1. A crisis is a terrible time to try to learn new skills.

Early in Feather’s article, he recalls a time when he was asked to provide training to workers at another tree care company. After his initial shock of discovering that those crews had received little-to-no safety training (and had experienced multiple fatalities), he was surprised once more to learn that management brought him in to provide emergency training. After all, the incidents were almost always preceded by some sort of emergency, right? Feather correctly realized that what they needed was safety training. Both forms of training are important, but when safety is prioritized and good habits are in place, most emergencies can be avoided preemptively. As Feather explains in the article: “Just as defensive driving skills decrease the likelihood of a traffic accident, so do basic chainsaw-handling and cutting skills decrease the need for emergency room (ER) visits.”

2. When the worst happens, your instincts will probably be wrong.

Feather then tells another story of a climber whose reflexive (but well-intentioned) action created a dangerous situation. The climber was using a top-handled chainsaw to attempt a snap or bypass cut, and “when the piece broke free prematurely, he instinctively reached to save the piece from falling on the fence he was trying to avoid.” While reflexively trying to protect the property below him, his right had made contact with the still-moving chain. In this true story, thankfully, the climber ultimately didn’t require aerial rescue, but any number of variables – What if he had been higher? What if there had been debris below him? What if the blood loss had been more significant? What if he had passed out? – could have created a situation where aerial rescue training could have made the difference between life and death. A well-intentioned reach can set off a devastating sequence of events.

3. Aerial rescue is almost always more than just getting someone out of a tree.

By its nature, aerial rescues are almost always a combination of several dangerous situations happening simultaneously. Not only are they dangerously high off of the ground, but like in the example above, they almost always include cutting equipment and at least one injured partner. The rescuer needs to be able to instantly identify and prioritize multiple concurrent emergencies 50 feet in the air. Addressing them in the wrong order can make a bad situation much worse.

4. Crew members might have to act as first responders.

In Feather’s story about the climber who cut his hand on a chainsaw while in a tree, the decision was made to go to the ER. On the way, the injured climber passed out for a few seconds at which point the driver pulled over and called 911. Here, the aerial rescue was just the beginning. Loss of blood and loss of consciousness all required quick decisions from the crew members before the ambulance arrived on the scene. Safety training can minimize the risk of an incident, but this is where the emergency training mentioned above becomes critical.

5. The true cost of failing to properly train is multi-faceted.

As the non-CVTS-L crew that Feather had been called into train knew all too well, the most devastating cost of poor training is the tragic loss of life or severe injury to crew members. As Feather puts it starkly in his article: “What would a fatality cost your company?” He explains that CVTS-L spends approximately $25,000 per year on safety training (mostly in the form of downtime and lost production), but failing to invest the time beforehand can lead to OSHA investigations and rehiring. According to the National Safety Council, the average cost of a workplace death is approximately $1.3 million. On top of this, there will be significant damage to morale within the company and to your reputation in the community if safety isn’t a priority. Training may be expensive up front, but it is well worth the investment. “An often-overlooked and unmeasurable benefit of any training is the comradery it brings to the crew or company,” says Feather.

6. Competence is required but the goal should be excellence – in the bucket and on the ground.

“Practicing AR not only adds value and worth to your skill set and company,” says Feather, “It is an ANSI requirement.” Crew members who work with lift operators or climbers – whether they are seasoned climbers or beginners – are held to this standard. The ANSI Z133 Safety Requirements for Arboricultural Operations, subsection 3. 2. 4, states: “Employees who may be faced with a rescue decision shall receive training in emergency response and rescue procedures appropriate and applicable to the work to be performed, as well as training to recognize the hazards inherent in rescue efforts.”

7. Hands-on realistic training is the only way to be prepared.

Feather prefers to train crews using a 150-pound dummy (“So the climber knows what 150 pounds of dead weight feels like”) that is tied in at 50 feet (with the dummy at suspended 20-30 feet) because it is high enough to convey the stakes of the aerial rescue but low enough that he can still easily communicate with the rescuers. He adds: “Each individual gets their hands on the controls and lowers the basket from an elevated, rotated position to the ground. We also spend time practicing how to extract an injured climber from the basket of an aerial lift.”

CONCLUSION – A hero-making moment or the point where things get exponentially worse?

Feather wraps up the article by asking tree care companies to think of the most recent manual tree removal they performed and imagine “the most critical cut in the process aloft going haywire. What would you do next?” Feather than answers that question by saying that the results will be contingent on the level of training the crews have received. “An injury aloft while a climber is using a base anchor could be a hero-making moment to a trained ground technician. However, if an unsure, untrained ground technician releases an anchor under the wrong criteria, the situation could get exponentially worse.”

Aaron Feather was previously published in TCI Magazine discussing the importance of a good anchor.