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Given the number of accidents, injuries, and, sadly, even deaths that occur on a regular basis in the tree care industry, it should be no surprise that emergency preparedness, aerial rescue, and emergency response are concepts with which most professional tree crews are familiar, and hopefully have even had some training in.

Emergency Response

By Michael “House” Tain


Given the number of accidents, injuries, and, sadly, even deaths that occur on a regular basis in the tree care industry, it should be no surprise that emergency preparedness, aerial rescue, and emergency response are concepts with which most professional tree crews are familiar, and hopefully have even had some training in. However, given the possible severity of an accident’s outcome, further discussion and knowledge, or simply a timely reminder, cannot help but increase arborists’ awareness and hopefully encourage the education, training and planning that are all an integral part of responding to emergencies in and on tree care work sites.

The first desired goal of any tree company’s emergency response plan should be to not have an emergency in the first place; and although this may sound glib and simplistic, examinations and evaluations of accident/injury statistics have shown that, in many cases, simple measures such as wearing required personal protective equipment (PPE), knowledge/training in safe cutting and rigging techniques, and even basic electrical hazard awareness training would have lessened the effect of — if not prevented — the injury/accident altogether. This does not mean that emergency response plans, aerial rescue and first aid/medical training, and scenario/situational knowledge are not necessary. All tree crews know that the arboricultural universe is filled with unexpected developments and organic surprises; and to not be prepared to respond to an unexpected incident that may create an emergency is to be prepared to fail.


Aerial rescue

Aerial rescue should be a key component of any emergency response planning and training. But, according to Dr. John Ball’s work, given that the majority of injuries impact ground personnel, aerial rescue should be a component — not the only focus — of emergency planning and training. Training should be realistic and appropriate to the work the company primarily focuses on, and the speed of the rescue should not be the focus of the training. For example, a company that does mainly spur takedowns would focus on rescue techniques appropriate to that type of climbing, while a company that primarily uses aerial lifts might focus on rescues and/or extractions from lifts. If time and budget allow, all possible scenarios that crews might confront can be practiced. But, at a minimum, the activities most often performed in daily work life should be the focus of training. Speed should never be the goal of an aerial rescue whether real or simulated. In the case of simulation, a focus on speed is not going to allow participants to gain as much as they might from the training, and may lead to unnecessary accidents or injuries. In the case of an actual emergency, unless an immediate life-threatening injury condition is present, the rescue should be about stabilizing the victim and getting them safely and securely to the ground for further care and treatment.


Medical supplies

Although a basic industrial first aid kit may very well meet the required standards for what a tree crew should have at the work site, its usefulness will likely be slight should the crew have to respond to an actual emergency. The reality of tree work is that objects falling from height at a high rate of speed, motorized equipment that can crush and lacerate, and cutting implements that do not distinguish between bark/woody fiber and skin/bone are present and operating at almost every job. Once again, safe work practices and proper PPE use will help minimize the likelihood of an accident or injury. But, should a struck-by or a chain saw cut occur, attempting to treat it with a box of band-aids and a tube of Neosporin will be challenging to say the least. The contents of a tree company’s work-specific “expanded” first aid kit will obviously be limited by the training and abilities of crew members; but should trained employees be part of the workforce, items to deal with tree-specific injuries — compression bandages, coagulating agents, folding cervical collars, etc. — will be quite valuable in the event of an emergency. Personal first aid kits — typically with a “blood stopper” type bandage — which fit in the pocket of chaps/chain saw pants or hang off a harness, though not required by standards, are an excellent idea. After all, a victim treating their own wound/injury and getting themselves to the ground is a much simpler prospect than an aerial rescue. In addition, a serious wound or laceration while working on the ground in a backyard may mean that the relatively small amount of time taken to run to get the primary first aid kit is too much time.


Emergency response plan

This plan is the overall design of how the crew will respond in the event of an emergency. It should include such tasks as which crew members are in charge on the scene in the event of an emergency (i.e., who is in charge of contacting emergency medical services and guiding them in, and who is in charge of victim care/rescue). The emergency response plan needs to be fluid, based on the varying complexity of jobs. But a basic plan with which all crew members are familiar and trained in will help them be better prepared.


Emergency response training

Although much of tree work occurs in urban or suburban settings where emergency medical assistance is readily available with a phone call, it is work that is often being carried out in isolation in the sense that the victim may be aloft or in a location on the property where access is not as simple as the living room of a home for the ambulance crew and attendant equipment. This fact means that tree crews should not only be prepared to reach a victim, but to treat and stabilize them until the emergency medical professionals arrive or gain access. These two topics, though certainly not exclusive of one another, often involve very different knowledge, skills, and training.

Victim access/retrieval

This topic, discussed previously as aerial rescue, is the one most often thought of when emergency preparedness is brought up within the tree care industry. Training in tree industry victim access and/or retrieval 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. Suitable and informative for both professions, it provides emergency medical professionals with knowledge and training in climbing systems and rescue scenarios, while also giving tree care professionals knowledge and training in appropriate emergency medicine and response plans/scenarios, and reinforces aerial rescue methods and techniques.

Medical treatment

The basic and minimum recommended level of medical training for a tree care company should be CPR and first aid training, renewed as required on a regular basis for every crew member. This type of training is readily available in almost all geographic areas from organizations such as the American Red Cross. More advanced training such as that provided by programs such as First Responder, will better prepare tree workers to deal with the more severe or challenging injuries possible on tree care work sites. Training in emergency medicine in “remote” settings where standard emergency personnel may have difficulty with quick or ready access is often called wilderness emergency medicine. As mentioned in previous articles, one excellent training option is available through Northern Cairn, a representative of Wilderness Medical Associates. Northern Cairn, in association with NATS, developed an arborist-specific emergency medicine course called Arborist First Responder. This course is focused on tree care industry injuries and accidents, and provides tree care professionals with the knowledge and techniques to treat, stabilize, and if necessary, move victims to professional emergency medical care. For more information, visit www.northerncairn.com.


Emergency response is a large and complex subject for a company, let alone an individual climber, to confront with an eye toward knowledge, training, and planning, and obviously different factors will impact how much can or cannot be done. The profession of an arborist is a challenging one, filled with requirements of knowledge, strength, and endurance far beyond what most “civilians” realize or even imagine. Unfortunately, it is also one that — despite crew members’ best efforts — may present more than a few unforeseen opportunities for injuries and accidents on a daily basis. Along with safe work practices and appropriate PPE use, planning, knowledge and training in emergency response have to be a part of each tree care company’s culture to whatever degree is possible. For the alternative — more injuries and deaths — is a cost that neither the industry, nor its workers, can afford.


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 house@houseoftain.com

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