Wednesday, March 26, 2008

CERT Chainsaw Training Class

I finally am getting around to writing up about the chainsaw class I took waaaaay back in January. I was going to take the class last year, but my husband convinced me that he could/would teach me, since we have both a small and a large chainsaw. He never did. So this year . . . Here was the course description:

CERT Members Chain Saw Class:

Chainsaw class Saturday (January 12, 2008) will begin at 8:30 a.m. This is an all day class. The class will be held at [member's house]. Dress appropriately for rough work and either warm or cold weather as may be predicted. Bring your own water and lunch.

This class is designed for both beginners and for individuals that would ultimately like to be part of a CERT team of first responders for tree (debris) removal work. The class will include hands on operation of a chainsaw. The class will include everything from how to start the saw to difficult and dangerous situations to avoid. Be prepared to hand carry tools and equipment to the work site through moderately rough terrain. You must be in good physical health to attend this class and you must sign a hold harmless release.

I think there were about six of us, and 4 were women. One of the CERT members took video of the training, but unfortunately, I don't have access to it or you could have fun watching me trying in vain to start a variety of chainsaws from a standing position. Tip--if you're not particularly strong, or maybe it's the arm length (I'm not what you'd call tall), it's really hard to cold start a chainsaw from standing. I assume the chainsaws are made for the average male height, which is probably a good half foot taller than me. The chainsaw is supposed to be held between your legs, and then you pull the starter rope with a jerk. After about 50 tries, all it did was give me beautiful bruises on my thighs. I did a lot better when the saw was on the ground and my foot was holding it down (another proper/acceptable way to start one, btw). And my right arm wasn't happy with me for about a week--muscles being used in a direction never before used! Maybe I'm just a wimp. :)

I think another issue for me was that all chainsaws (afaik) are made to be used right-handed. I'm a lefty, so I think I could have started one using my left hand, but I'll never know . . . The main reason we were trained to start a chainsaw from standing is that you never know what terrain you might be on when you need to use the saw (assuming you're acting as part of a CERT team in an emergency situation), and the ground might not be stable, or there might just be things in your way. I'll just have to start it my way and warm it up first, before I get to where I'll be using it. :)

But before we even got to touch a saw, we watched a training video made by Stihl, about 50 minutes long, on all the parts of the saw, how to care for one, sharpen the chain teeth. You can watch it here, if you're curious. It's the one titled Chain Saw Safety, Operation & Maintenance. Even if you don't use that particular brand, it's very helpful.

We then got to clean the CERT unit's chainsaws, which were rather filthy. They had been disassembled already, and we worked in pairs to clean the gunk out and then reattach the bar and chain. And there is a right and wrong direction on the chain, in case you were wondering. :) We also got to try sharpening a few of the teeth with a file and a special tool to keep you at the right angle and height. Who knew there was so much to a chainsaw? I tried telling Eddie all this stuff, and he just knew it already, so that deflated my balloon a little. LOL But then, he's been using all kinds of manly equipment all his life, so what did I expect?

After cleaning and assembling, we got to starting them. We had great safety equipment, which I still intend to buy for Eddie and myself. They were chaps, and a helmet with face guard--screen, not plastic, so you don't fog up--plus hearing protectors all in one unit. Very nice. Pretty much like what you see in the top left picture on this page. Though our chaps were blue, not sure the brand. Eddie did have that little mishap about two years ago where these chaps would have been helpful. Though he complained that they would have been too hot, since he was working in warm weather. Men.

Ok, the mishap was as follows: He went to his dad's house to cut down a few smaller trees with his dad and brother. I think they may have also been cutting previously-felled trees into logs. While he was cutting through a small-diameter tree, the blade of the saw got caught in between--he'd cut through but the blade was still in the tree because it was probably just a little larger than the width of the blade, and the tree sat on the blade. So he had shut off the saw and was waiting for the tree to fall. Nothing else to do in that situation.

When it started falling, the chainsaw got kicked out, and headed straight for his left shin. Ouch! Even not running, the blade was sharp enough (and I suppose moving with a bit of force) to cut into his leg pretty deeply. His dad and brother were helpful in getting him bandages or whatever. I think he may even have rinsed out the gash. Then he tied a bandanna to it and kept going. No need to stop working. Huh?

This was I think on a Friday or Saturday. So naturally, nobody goes to the doctor to see if he needs stitches. Monday I told him he was going to the dr. But by the time he got to see one that day, it was past the 48-hour window for putting in stitches. The doctor did tell him he'd done a nice job of cleaning and caring for the wound, which only encourages him! So he has a nice scar on his shin. And now he thinks he's a doctor. If he'd been wearing chaps . . . But I don't want to tell a grown man how to keep his legs safe.

So back to training. We were ready now that we could (mostly) start the chainsaws. We went to an area that had a couple large fallen trees that were surrounded by some undergrowth. Our goal was to cut away the small stuff so we could get to the fallen trees, and then cut one of those into a 6 foot section we could practice cutting through. Another important tip--you don't want to let the chainsaw touch the ground when it's running--the dirt will dull your blade right away. So always keep a spare chain just in case. Interestingly, the small brush is trickier to cut away than the large stuff. A big tree isn't going to move when you start cutting. Brush starts whipping in all directions or can get caught up in the saw.

So after maybe an hour of that, we went to work on felling a couple dead standing trees. We worked with ropes to pull the trees in the direction we wanted, and learned to always have at least two escape routes in case the tree starts falling the wrong way. I got to cut down the second tree myself, which was fun. The rest of my team was working the ropes and we did a great job of not landing it into the patch of bamboo nearby. :)

I was exhausted by the end of the day, but the class was very worth-while.

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