By Michael “House” Tain
Emergency preparedness is a topic of many discussions, articles, seminars, and training sessions within the tree care industry; and rightfully so. After all, the numbers don’t lie; tree care workers continue to die and be injured at a much higher rate than most other industries.
As the title suggests, the idea behind this multitude of discussions and training sessions is to help tree crews be better prepared in the event an emergency happens on their work site. This will hopefully give them the tools, techniques and knowledge to deal with the emergency safely, efficiently and professionally — leading to an proper care/ treatment of injuries until professional emergency medical personnel can arrive (and ultimately to survival of the victim).
However, a common misconception within individual tree care companies and personnel is that the primary focus of emergency preparedness should always be aerial rescue. Although the ability to carry out a safe and appropriate aerial rescue of an injured climber or aerial lift operator is certainly a vital component of emergency preparedness, it is simply that — a component of emergency preparedness. In fact, research done and published by Dr. John Ball and associates shows that injury is far more likely to occur to ground personnel during tree care operations. Taking this fact into account will help tree crews be much better prepared for emergencies, leading to better outcomes for all concerned.
Emergency response plan
The emergency response plan is the overall design of how the crew will respond in the event of an emergency. At a minimum, it should include such tasks as which crew member(s) is in charge on the scene in the event of an emergency. This is sometimes called the single point of contact (SPOC) and identifies which crew member(s) is in charge of contacting emergency medical services and guiding them in, and which crew member(s) is in charge of victim care/rescue.
Obviously, the emergency response plan needs to be fluid, as larger or more complex jobs will require more complicated plans. But some form of basic design — that all crew members are familiar with and trained in — will help crew members be better prepared and respond more quickly in the event of an emergency.
As mentioned, aerial rescue is a vital part of an emergency preparedness plan, and should be examined, evaluated, taught and practiced realistically to and by all tree crew members. After all, one never knows who may be injured aloft and who is remaining on the ground as the rescuer.
Additionally, the gear necessary to carry out a rescue must be available to the crew at the work site. A trained rescuer on the ground will be of little use without a rope, harness, spurs, or whatever else the particular actual rescue scenario might require.
The speed of training rescues should have little, if any, impact on whether it is viewed as successful or not. Speed — though obviously important in very specific imminent death situations — is of little value in the majority of aerial rescues, and can lead to more harm than good. Victim or patient evaluation, care, and packaging should be the focus of aerial rescue training — all of which will necessitate further training in first aid and emergency medicine for the majority of tree care workers.
The rescue training should be realistic. If a company or crew primarily does removals using spurs, those are the rescues that should be practiced (rather than a competition-style rope and harness rescue).
First aid kits
A well-stocked and easily located industry-appropriate first aid kit is a key component of any tree crew’s emergency preparedness plan. One containing a small pinky finger bandage and a bottle of eyewash is not going to be very helpful in the event of a chain saw cut or an open head wound. Therefore, the kit should be checked and restocked as required regularly. All crew members should know the location of the kit so that it can be quickly and easily located in the event of an injury. Personal first aid kits such as a Cederroth Bloodstopper or an Israeli compression bandage that can be worn on the harness or carried in the pocket of chaps/chain saw pants are an excellent idea, because a serious injury aloft or on the ground away from the first aid kit can perhaps be treated or gotten under control with little delay.
Location, location, location
As simple as it may seem, the vital information of where the crew is located can often become confused or even forgotten in the heat of an actual accident or emergency. The first thing the emergency medical services need is the location, thus knowledge of the address of the job, utility pole number, mile marker, etc. are all vital for every member of the crew to know in the event they are making the 911 call. An option used by some companies is to write the location on the side of the truck with a grease pencil after arrival at the job site, making it readily available to the person designated to make the emergency services call.
Obviously, some means of communication is necessary to make this call. So assuring that radios are working, cell phone coverage exists, etc. is important prior to beginning work. After an injury/accident occurs is not the time to discover limited cell phone coverage.
At a minimum, every crew member should have basic first aid and CPR training, renewed as required on a regular basis. This training is often only given to — or required for — lead climbers or crew foreman. Although this might provide a cost savings in the short term, it could lead to greater expenses or even a tragic loss in the long term. The accident or injury could strike anyone on the crew; and if it strikes the only member trained in first aid and CPR, the resulting patient care and treatment could be less than adequate.
First aid and CPR training are a good start down the road toward emergency preparedness, but they provide minimal and very basic knowledge of the treatment required for the serious injuries to which tree care personnel could fall victim. Training provided by programs such as First Responder will better prepare tree workers to deal with the lacerations, crushing, and impact injuries common to tree work site accidents.
The location the accident might occur also plays a vital role in being prepared for it. A front yard or even accessible backyard ground accident in an urban setting will probably be quickly and readily responded to by emergency medical services. But an injury aloft or in a more remote setting can add serious, perhaps deadly, complications. In this case, the tree crew themselves may be the only emergency medical response available for a period of time; and should have the knowledge and skills to treat and stabilize the patient.
Training in emergency medicine in “remote” settings such as this is often called wilderness emergency medicine. One excellent training option is available through Northern Cairn (www.northerncairn.com), which is a representative of Wilderness Medical Associates. Northern Cairn has taken one of its five-day Wilderness First Responder courses and geared it toward tree care industry injuries and accidents, providing an arborist-specific emergency medicine course. This is not a course in climbing or aerial rescue, but rather a course that teaches the climber or ground person how to treat the injuries upon reaching the victim, stabilizing them until the arrival of the emergency medical services, or during the victim’s movement to medical care. Successful completion results in first aid and CPR certification, along with certification as a Wilderness First Responder.
Training in tree-industry-specific emergency response, such as aerial rescue, is available from several organizations including Arboriculture Canada Training and Education, ArborMaster, ACRT, and North American Training Solutions (NATS). An example of a specific course is Emergency First Response in an Arboricultural Setting (EFRAS) offered by NATS. This course — designed and developed by arborist instructors who are also paramedics and fire department veterans — is intended to bridge the knowledge and training gap between two professions, arboricultural and emergency medical services.
Emergency preparedness is a large topic, and there are many more pieces and parts to it than covered here. But the most important component, just as the title suggests, is preparedness. Tree care professionals must, for their own sake and the sake of those they work with, examine, evaluate and prepare for likely workplace injury and accident scenarios. Failure to do so could lead to a lifetime of wondering if it would have ended differently with a little bit more training or preparation.
Michael “House” Tain is a contract climber, splicer, educator and writer associated with North American Training Solutions www.northamericantrainingsolutions.com and Arbor Canada Training and Education www.arborcanada.com. He is currently located in Lancaster, Ky., and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org