Winter project

Winter brings specific side projects, mostly of in-door nature, with it. I have recently been working on re-illustrating all of the instruction manuals of Baumklettern Schweiz. I enjoy working on images like this as it makes me look at small details I often overlook otherwise, consider hand positions and how to communicate visually in a clear, uncluttered manner.

Training for emergencies

I am sorry, I realise the tone of this blog is a bit sombre at the moment. I am sure we will get back to the more light-hearted themes in due course, for the time being though, it is simply the way it is.

One thing which struck me thinking about it, is how when planning and practicing for emergencies we tend to focus on the mechanics of emergencies: assessing and mitigating risks, rescue techniques and tools, first aid skills etc. Obviously these are essential factors, which will have a significant impact on how a team is able to respond in case of an accident.

One thing we do not often talk about though is our reactions in such situations. Of course, one reason for this is that it is nigh on impossible to predict how you are going to be affected and what your exact response is going to be, as this depends up multiple factors – yet it is safe to assume that at one level or the other, there will inevitably be a response – and that this will affect your actions and your judgement.

I met up with a friend, let’s call him F.H., last week who had a very bad accident a couple of months ago. I was interested in hearing what he could remember of the immediate aftermath of the accident. He recounted how he has a clear recollection of lying on the ground, on his side, unable to move, realising that he was in a really bad condition. His work mate came rushing over, F.H. asked him to pull his mobile phone out of this pocket and give it to him. He then phoned his wife, told her he had had a really bad fall and that it was not looking good – and hung up. After that, things turned really hectic, paramedics and police turning up on site, he was rushed off to hospital and operated upon for hours…

In the meantime, his wife was sitting at home, unable to reach him or anybody else on site by phone, going absolutely frantic.

It would not even occur to me to be judgemental or critical of this reaction. I totally get what F.H. was doing when he made the call, what can be more understandable when you are really badly injured than to want to speak to the person you love to let him or her know what has happened. Yet in such a situation your body is working in overdrive, your judgment, whilst it may feel clear in the moment, may well be clouded and you actions far from rational. It might have made sense in this situation for F.H. to ask his work mate to make the call to his wife – and to keep her updated.

So maybe this is something one ought to be discussing as part of planning and training for emergencies: not just how to place the call to emergency services, but who else to get in touch with, how to make the call and who makes the call. Do we have access to the relevant numbers of next of kin, for instance?

Of course, this is not immediately relevant to the handling of the casualty, yet will certainly have a mitigating effect upon the collateral damage, upset and trauma caused by such an incident.

Fragile

This is maybe blindingly obvious, but let me say it anyhow:

When writing about Florim’s accident it was never my intent to highlight his accident over others.

My reaction was very much of the instinctive, knee-jerk kind, it was clear to me from the get-go that being totally open and transparent about what had happened was the right response in this instance for this person – which Flo confirmed when we spoke about it prior to going public with the news. For someone else, naturally, a totally different response might have been necessary – this is after all not a matter of what is right or wrong, simply what is appropriate and helpful.

In the past year there have been four serious accidents in my more or less immediate professional surroundings, including one fatality. This hurts badly, making me very much aware of my own mortality, highlighting the stark truth how fragile a life can be, irreversibly changed in the blink of an eye.

Of course, things sometimes go wrong. This is further compiled by the fact that in arboriculture we work in an environment, at height and with machinery, where when things go wrong, they tend to go wrong badly – with serious consequences.

There is not such thing as a more or less important accident. Every single one is tragic and one too many.

Let us be diligent in how we do things, mindful of each other and respectful of the environments we work in and the tools we work with.

Our thoughts, love and support go out to all those affected by an accident, including their families, loved ones and friends.

Tricky

This was an interesting one…

A couple of weeks back I got a call from an acquaintance I had not heard from in ages because their tree had broken in half during the storm. The pictures she sent looked fairly dramatic, so I went round to have a look at the extent of the damage the following day.

Once on site it became apparent that the tree had sheared in half, leaving one third lying in the acquaintance’s garden, one third in the neighbours garden and one third standing, leaning slightly toward another neighbour’s garden. The tree stood a good thirty meters tall. The day I went there was the Monday after Florim’s accident, so I was hurting pretty badly. I decided there and then that this was decidedly not the right day to attempt to sort this out on – and that apart from that in view of the major mess and the limited access the best bet would be to remove the remaining tree as well as the material on the ground with a crane.

So I fixed up a meeting with the dispatcher of the crane company we work with. This would clearly require some large machinery: the distance from the tree to the road was a good 50 meters. We planned the removal with a Spierings MK110, which can lift 1.7 tonnes at 60 meters! I love these units, as they are super-fast to set up and great to work with… on the down side, it is a pretty sizeable machine, so it required a bit of planning and discussion to identify the correct positioning of the crane. It ended up an snug fit, with centimetres to spare between overhead street lighting cables, street signs, bike stands and garden fences.

I assumed we would be able to remove the tree the end of the following week, but as is often the case with assumptions, this proved to be wrong, due to a misunderstanding it turned out the crane would not be available until  the week after. So I phoned the client and explained. She was a bit concerned whether the tree would stand up to another storm. Ach, I said, how high is the likelihood that there will be such a strong storm again in the next couple of days?

Well, upon checking the weather forecast the following Sunday, I found out: very high winds forecast from Tuesday morning onwards until Thursday. The removal was scheduled for the Friday after. Umm…

Blooming marvellous.

I felt very uneasy with the prospect of simply leaving the tree, but the window to do something about it was limited to Monday (which needless to day was already booked). So we packed a load of gear and went there to see what could be done. As far as I was concerned there were three options available to us:

  1. Declare the tree unclimbable and simply accept that there was a risk of further failure, inform the neighbour accordingly and wait to see what would happen. This was not an unreasonable position in view of the fact that at the point of failure 50% of the stem was missing. This leaves you with a residual breaking strength of 25% compared to the original strength.
  2. Guy the tree. This would have involved placing two low-elongation lines, one facing into the wind, the other 90° to the predicted wind direction. The aim here being to ensure that in case of failure the tree would not be able to fall towards the neighbouring building.
  3. Climb the tree and reduce it by about 50%, dropping large bits, removing the rest with the crane at the end of the week.

Frankly, I had misgivings with all three options.

Option one is always an option, yet it felt a bit like a last resort.

When guying trees, as in option two, I am always very conscious that the direction you guy in is based upon assumption regarding wind direction, but more importantly you are radically changing the dynamics of the tree, creating new pivot points, which may in turn induce forces leading to unforeseen failure mechanisms.

In the end we decided to get some lines up and work our way through it step by step. After a thorough inspection of the point of failure I felt happy enough to ascent up to into the canopy. There was a bit of rot at the upper part of the tear, but upon probing it it turned out that this did not go very deep before encountering sound wood. Also, the  center of gravity of the residual canopy was pretty much above the trunk, so no eccentric loading.

I will admit to some pretty ginger lowering of a couple of side branches. We then pulled off a larger side limb. To do so, I attached a tag line, made a face and back cut, leaving a generous hinge. Before the ground crew pulled it off, however, I got myself out of the tree, because we were not sure how the tree would respond to the backward bending moment caused by the piece breaking off. We did the same thing with the large upright bits, rigging them down with a generous mechanical advantage system… The hinge on the last bit was really wide, it was interesting to see how the back fibres did all the holding, which the fibres in the front part of the hinge were compressed and crushed (see pic above).

All of these shenanigans  left us with… mayhem. Still, I was very glad we got the tree down, the winds the following days were indeed very strong.

I thought this was an interesting job: it illustrates how you can work through a tricky situation step by step. At each step I was asking myself the question whether I am letting the circumstances force me to into taking risks which are not reasonable. In view of the fact that the tree posed no immediate danger to anybody in the surroundings, I had no intention of breaking my neck. By being systematic and thorough, with plenty of discussion in the team, in the end we had worked through eventualities and came up with a solution which assessed risks and defined mitigating action which allowed us to perform the work in a safe and professional manner.

What was left to do in the end was the tidy-up, with bits of tree spread over four gardens, so it took a while. Well, half a day… with enough manpower thrown at them, theses things become less of a chore. We left the garden looking halfway decent, the stump ground out.

What do I take away from this?

Trust your gut feeling, do not let yourself be pressured into doing something you feel uncomfortable with, be methodical and diligent in how you perform the work, use all resources available to you in your team – and be prepared for the fact that things may not go exactly as anticipated.

Lessons in Resilience/ Update Florim #3

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, I have been very absorbed by a number of pressing matters, with Florim’s situation looming large amongst these. Hopefully heading back towards a semblance of normality in the coming weeks…

Florim has spent the last week battling a persistent infection in the wound, which in the end required further surgery early Sunday morning. This time the doctors decided for a more aggressive procedure to sort out the infection once and for all. This involved drilling into the bone, causing Flo very severe pain.

Having said that, they seem to have successfully eliminated the infection. The results so far are very encouraging, here is keeping fingers crossed!

I was blown away when I went to see Flo today by how positive and balanced he was. We had a long chat about the accident and the immediate aftermath, which was tough, but at the same time it is good to see him working through what happened as a start of the process towards coming to terms with it. Seeing Flo rebound from this horrific incident in this fashion is a lesson in resilience indeed.

A big thank you to all of you who have been in touch or written to Florim. We were discussing how this sensation of being supported and carried by a community had an enormous positive impact, helping him navigate the first few very difficult days.

The next hurdle will be leaving hospital beginning of next week and reorientating himself in a new everyday life. But after what I encountered today, I have total faith in Flo that he is more that up to this task.

Up-date Florim

The days since Florim’s accident have been hard.

A rollercoaster ride, with one moment feeling normal, for the next to hurt badly. The accident has sent shock waves through the industry, the response has been overwhelming. Thank you all for your kind thoughts and messages, I know this means the world to Flo.

If you would like to send him something or write to him, please send here:

Florim Ajda
Grand’ Rue de Peney 18
1445 Vuiteboeuf

If you have written to him, please understand that if Florim does not answer, this is not meant in an unkind or rude fashion, he simply really needs to focus on the healing process.

He will remain in hospital the next couple of days, after a second operation on Monday evening. He has started physio to keep the arm supple and mobile.

I was heartened by what I encountered when I first saw him after the accident last Sunday. Florim remains the up-beat, positive person he always has been, obviously struggling at times, which is more than understandable in view of the circumstances, but he clearly says that he is not afraid of what the future may hold for him, is ready to confront it and feels very lucky, realising the accident could have been a lot worse. I am confident that he is going to work his way through the difficult and lengthy process ahead of him, with the help of all the people around him.

Heal fast, my friend.

Florim

I am deeply shocked.

Last Friday, our friend and colleague, Florim Ajda, had a terrible accident with a chipper. He lost his left hand and part of his lower arm. Apart from this he is uninjured. Thanks to the fast response by the people on site, he was quickly taken to hospital and was operated upon at once. There, he is receiving first-class care, is conscious and is surrounded by people who are close to him.

It is important for us – in agreement with Florim – to inform you directly and factually about this serious accident to prevent rumours from circulating. Florim is one of the most competent and professional arborists we know. For years he has promoted safe work practices and professionalism, in training as well as during his every-day work. His open and positive nature touches and inspires people around him. It is almost unimaginable that of all people this should have happened to him.

This accident painfully reminds us that during our work we can reduce the likelihood of such an accident occurring by applying safe work practices in a methodical and dilligent fashion – yet a residual risk will always remain.

Dear Florim, our thoughts are with you and we wish you lots of energy for your recovery and all which may come. We are thankful and glad that you are alive.

Pop go my resolutions

Three days into the new year and the first of my resolutions has already gone the way of the dodo… that one where I swore to myself to spend the first two weeks of 2018 pretty much in front of the wood stove? Well, after yesterday’s storm that one was knocked solidly on the head. Oh well.

Steer clear of trees, the met office said. 😳

The uprooted birch on this call-out was not very large or very challenging – except for the fact that it was hung up right on the edge of a building, over power lines. And it was wet. And there was a stupid amount of movement from the gusts of wind coming through. After having the power switched off and having guyed the tree in three directions, we stripped it down between two thunder cells.

Watching trees move in the wind is one thing, riding the storm on a tree is another. Really makes you appreciate the dynamic properties of a tree canopy.

A winter’s tale

It is more windy than cold today here, but talking to friends exposed to the momentary spell of cold weather in parts of the US reminded me of a story which happened years ago.

This was back in the days when I was training with Alan, a friend from Ireland who owned a tree care company in Basel. Back then it was just the two of us, which was great, certainly gave me the best foundation I could ever have wished for. But when you are working as such a small unit, you really get to know each others quirks. One of Alan’s was that he loved to chat with clients. And chat, and chat…

One day we worked in a elderly customer’s garden, pruned her plane trees, the birch and some other bits and pieces. It was cold and getting dark by the time we finished, I was glad when I had the van all packed up and was more than ready to pack it in and call it a day. Cold fingers, chilly wind blowing… Alan, meanwhile had been chatting with the customer for what felt like a geological age.

He then popped his head out of a window, to tell me we still needed to clear the gutters.

Argh!

This sent me into an instant grump! So back down to the van, fiddle the ladder off the back, lug it back into the garden, set it up against the side of the house and get up there. It was only then that I realised that the leaves and gunk were frozen in the gutter. This was getting worse and worse! So I decided it was time for drastic measures if I was ever to get off work that day. I got some secateurs and hacked the ice away, diligently working my way along the roof and round the corner. As the layer of ice was quite thick this required quite a bit of effort… when I finished, I took down the ladder, loaded it back on the van, cleared the gunk up off the ground – and was (again) good to go.

I rounded the corner to bump into Alan, who looked less than happy. WTF? He then pointed out how you could see the dusk sky though the gutter, punctured along its whole length by many, many secateur-size holes. What can I say, my alibi was not exactly water-proof, as in The holes were there already, honest, guv. The proof was stacked quite heavily against me, to a degree that denying it did not really make sense.

This situation had a number of immediate and longer-term consequences:

  • The gutter had to be replaced,
  • I did not have to clear any more gutters for quite some time, and
  • Alan will never let me forget.

I do not like winter, roll on spring!

Surprising

Picking up on the theme from yesterday, here was one that really surprised me…

One point where the harness a reviewer was comparing to the treeMOTION scored, was that you have to customise the latter. Errrr, say what? You have to customise it? And here was me thinking that being able to customise a harness or a tool to your ergonomic requirements, the work you do, the structures you work on and your level of skill was a good thing. But apparently not, according to this guy.

Huh.

Which just goes to prove that if you search long enough, there is no opinion too outlandish or skewed that you cannot find somebody peddling it out there.

Yes, mixing facts and opinion like this annoys me. Done grumbling now…