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NH tree experts offer deadly reminders of chainsaw dangers

Union Leader Correspondent

November 12. 2012 9:30PM
Mark Przekurat, owner of Renaissance Acres Tree Care in Weare, teaches chainsaw safety classes and says that homeowners need to understand the destructive power of a chainsaw before pulling the cord. (COURTESY)

MILFORD - There have been two fatal accidents involving local residents trying to take down trees, and as winter's storms start moving in, there's concern that more accidents could happen.

"Taking down trees is dangerous work," said Milford police Capt. Chris Nervik. "You're working with dangerous equipment so you have to avail yourself of every safety precaution."

On Oct. 18, Richard Riendeau, 75, was killed when he was struck by a tree he was cutting down at his Milford home. Just a few weeks later, William Duncklee, 72, died from a head injury while working on a tree.

The Milford accidents, along with three fatal accidents within the professional tree cutting industry in New Hampshire in the past year, have caught the attention of Mark Przekurat, an arborist and owner of Renaissance Acres Tree Care in Weare. Przekurat, who teaches chainsaw safety classes, said that with New Hampshire being clobbered by storms like Hurricane Sandy and last week's nor'easter, safety should be at the forefront of everyone's mind.

It starts with the saw

"Chainsaws are dangerous," said Przekurat. "The chain on a chainsaw spins at 60 miles per hour, and each tooth, when the saw is new, is sharp enough to shave with."

When a chainsaw gets going, it can be deadly, and the more it's used, the more dangerous it is, especially if people aren't maintaining it properly, Przekurat said.

"A dull chainsaw is more dangerous than a sharpened one because it requires the operator to use more force to make the same cut," he said. That use of force can cause the operator to lose footing, or can make the chainsaw kick back, putting people at risk of injury.

Mark Garvin, president of the Tree Care Industry Association based in Londonderry, said having two hands on the chainsaw, and two feet on the ground at all times, are vital to felling trees safely.

"I can't tell you how many fatalities and injuries happen when a homeowner gets up on a ladder with a chainsaw," he said.

Know your limits

The first thing professional tree cutters do when they arrive on a job is to assess the situation carefully, to make sure they have the right equipment for the job and to ensure they can do the job safely, said Garvin. Homeowners need to do the same thing and to know when a job is too big for them to handle.

"If you're the least bit unsure of what you're doing, seek professional advice," Nervik said.

Przekurat said no one should be out trying to take down trees when the wind is blowing, or it's wet and slippery, and no one - not even professionals - should ever work alone.

"Communication is key," he said. "When you're working on cutting a tree, you can't see what that tree is doing above you. You need somebody to be watching so that if something changes, you have a chance to get out of the way."

Garvin said homeowners should avoid trying to take down a tree that's thicker than their thigh, and they should never get close to a tree that has taken down wires.

"You have to always assume that those wires are live," he said.

And messing with "spring poles," trees that have been bent over into an arch by snow, ice or debris, is a recipe for disaster.

"Those trees are holding a tremendous amount of tension and when that tension is released, you don't know which way it's going to go," he said. "Spring poles are the most dangerous trees to work with."

Dress for success

Even if the weather is perfect, an operator has good knowledge of a chainsaw, and the job seems simple, Nervik said basic safety precautions need to be taken.

"Look at the professional tree cutters," he said. "You never see them cutting without a face shield, a hard hat or helmet, gloves and leather chaps."

Garvin said that chainsaw-resistant pants are one of the items most homeowners over look, but they're one of the most important.

"Every professional must wear chainsaw-resistant pants," he said. "It's the law. But the guy who only takes his chainsaw out three times a year doesn't wear them. You'd be amazed at how fast a saw can cut through the threads of a pair of jeans. If you're going to use a chainsaw, you need to buy the pants."

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