I urge people to prepare for disasters not just because it may affect them and their family, but also because you may be pressed into action to help someone else.
One of our neighbors lives alone and has some mobility issues. She and my wife occasionally go catch the latest movie or make a run to the grocery story. So we and the other neighbors help keep an eye on her in case she needs a little help.
Earlier this week, she called to say a large branch fell from one of her trees and into her backyard. She knew I'd helped cut brush around her home before and wondered if I'd be able to do help with the branch cutting and removal.
I stopped by her place around lunchtime yesterday to get a sense of what size of job we were looking at. It was a rather large branch, the largest parts of which were just beyond the capabilities of my 16 inch chain saw. After some back and forth texts, she indicated a high school kid was on his way to her house to help move the branches if I could come start sawing. Dutifully, I took off with the usual chain saw paraphernalia - chain saw premix fuel, bar oil, extra parts, saw sharpener, safety gear and tools.
I'd been sawing for a bit when the saw got pinched by a branch, basically trapping the saw into one place. After multiple attempts to free the saw (including an attempt to get the jack out of my truck to lift the affected limb so as to relieve the pressure on the chain saw bar), it became apparent that a) I needed another tool to free my saw and b) the teen who was supposed to come help wasn't coming after all.
Fortunately, a neighbor showed up with a Sawzall to help me cut my chain saw out of the branch. The two of us continued to cut branches and move brush until the afternoon storms affecting the area this week finally arrived into Austin.
Spending a couple of hours with the chain saw gave me some time to reflect on the need for people in both rural and suburban environments to clear trees and brush from their property after a storm. It reminded me of my first month living in Miami, having moved there just a week before Hurricane Andrew hit. Lots of first time chain saw owners ended up becoming hospital emergency room patients because they'd never used a chain saw before. They are not hard to use, but they do require some practice and study to fully appreciate what they can (and cannot) do.
Thunderstorms, high wind events, ice storms, or just random tree or branch collapses - these events generally bring on the need to cut wood to clear a road, driveway, entrance or yard of debris. You may find that it's not your home or yard that needs the help; it may be that your neighbor or community is hampered by the number of downed trees after a storm.
Here are some of my thoughts and observations while chain sawing through the debris:
Make hydration a priority. This likely goes without saying, except when you get busy and focused, your water intake needs may not always get the attention it deserves. The entire afternoon, I could hear hydration advocate Caleb Causey of Lone Star Medics saying "Drink Water!" over and over in my head.
Thanks to his training, I recognized the early onset of dehydration: cold, clammy skin in 85 degree weather. I shouldn't get chilly in that kind of environment, and I yet that's exactly what it felt like. Which leads me to my next observation....
Keep water in your vehicle. Lots of it. I make it a priority to keep two large bottles of water in each door of my truck. I prefer the sports bottle kind that allows me to not only share the water with someone else without catching their cooties, but also to use the nozzle for irrigation or washing out in the field. Getting that cold, clammy feeling prompted me to put the saw down and chug a bottle and a half of water. It made a big difference in a short period of time.
I've also decided to put some powered Gatorade in my truck as well. I'm not a big fan of the taste of water, but if I can spice it up with sugar and lemon/lime flavor, I'm more apt to drink it.
Helping others with your preparedness gear creates great opportunities for practice and training. I would not say I am an expert chain saw operator, but I have these guys beat:
Getting out your gear and using it in non-crisis situations is a great way to learn more, get practice, and to make sure it's in good working order. The chain saw did well, but I realized it's time to take it in to get it serviced. As we approach the apex of the hurricane season (and with an increased risk of gulf coast hurricanes this season) there's an increased chance we'll need to saw some branches in the coming months. I need for the saw to be ready for that. And to be ready for that....
Have adequate spare parts and tools on hand to keep things running. I'm pretty good about this when it comes to the chain saw. Much of those lessons I've learned from experience. Having an extra chain, a sharpener, extra nuts for the clutch cover, along with extra fuel and bar oil - these things can mean the difference between staying in the field, getting the job done, or having to quit early until you can make a repair.
Caleb Causey, far left, of Lone Star Medics. LSM is a leading provider of tactical medical training in dynamic environments. They recommend their students start their hydration regimen two days before one of their extended training sessions. Ideally, I would have started consuming water much earlier than I did before strenuously working outside in a high temperature, high humidity environment.
Have the right safety equipment. I have a pair of chain saw chaps. They may not be the best looking things to wear, but having heard enough stories from those who use saws regularly about how effective they are, I am a big believer. Gloves, eye protection, steel toed boots - no need to risk an injury when using something like a chain saw.
Have a plan in case something goes wrong. I had my trauma kit with me in the event I managed to hurt myself with the saw. It may sound rather overprotective, but when you're working by yourself with power tools, you are effectively your own first responder until the professionals arrive.
Helping others isn't just good citizenship; it's a way to keep your own readiness skills sharp. Sitting around waiting for the opportunity to use your equipment does nothing to keep you prepared. Having the gear and a willingness to use it helps others, sets a good example for your kids, and gives you a good opportunity to check your equipment and your own skills.
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