By John B. Snyder, Watervliet ArsenalApril 27, 2017
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (April 2017) -- Despite snow still on the ground, activity at the Arsenal this month gave some the impression that New York's campgrounds might have opened up. After all, chain saws were loudly buzzing as they cut through large and small tree trunks here.
But the truth is, there was an art and science class, of sorts, in progress with nine members of the Arsenal's public works team, and not a cleanup crew from the state's Department of Environmental Conservation.
Ken Palmer, who is one of the founders of a company in Connecticut called ArborMaster, was here for a little over two days teaching public works team members the ins and outs of tree felling. To him, he said, cutting trees has elements of art and science in that one must be able to visualize how a tree will fall given the knowledge of angles and leverage.
One of the biggest safety issues with chain saws is that they are ergonomically designed to be easy to operate, Palmer said. Because of the ease of operation, too many people believe that they can take their purchase of a chain saw from a local hardware store and immediately start cutting trees.
Matthew Church, the Arsenal's safety officer agrees.
"Although we contract most of our tree cutting requirements, there are times when our public works crew will take on the job," Church said. "Recently, I saw our public works guys starting to cut down a very large tree, but I stopped the action because I was concerned that they did not have the appropriate training for the task."
Church said that he, in coordination with the public works leadership, put the tree cutting on hold while he researched the Army standards for felling or trimming trees. He said that he discovered that Army regulations mandate that if anyone on the installation is going to cut or trim trees, then they must be trained by a qualified person. At the time of the large tree felling, there was no one qualified in the Arsenal workforce to provide such training.
And so, the large tree stood for months until Palmer arrived. The tree had become a symbol of workplace safety trumping a mission.
Even after Palmer arrived, he would provide more than eight hours of hands-on training on smaller cutting challenges before attempting to cut the large tree. And then, on a very breezy and cold morning, Palmer and the public works team members attacked the large tree.
Once safety rigging was hooked to the tree to assist with the direction of the tree fall, something magical appeared to flow through the public works team. One-by-one, each person's face lit up with smiles as they picked up chain saws to finally knock down that obstructionist, large tree.
After another 90 minutes of deliberate instruction, Palmer and the Arsenal team finally felled the tree. It was strange to see grown men shout and pat each other on the back as if they had just won a World Series, but that is exactly what they did as that old tree thunderously hit the ground. Even Palmer's excitement was evident as he quickly called a photographer over to capture the final vestiges of what was once a towering symbol of simply doing things right, and by the regulation.
Public Works Operations Supervisor Marc Kouffman, who was also part of the team being trained, said after the tree had been cut down was that the training he just received was the best of any type of training that he has had in the eight years he has worked at the Arsenal.
"When given a piece of machinery that is easy to operate, we can take things for granted by beginning to execute the task at hand before we have thought through the process," Kouffman said. "This course taught me to have patience and to have a plan for the next step and not just on the step that we are executing."
Kouffman added that not only will the Arsenal be able to reduce future tree felling costs, he will also save money at home as he will be able to do a lot of the tree cutting that he previously had to pay for. In essence, a win for the Arsenal and for Kouffman and his team.
According to Kouffman, he plans to send two to three of his team members to advance rigging classes for tree felling and to establish a formal training program at the Arsenal.
In regards to the large tree, a lot of people in pickup trucks have been seen slowly driving by the tree every day. Maybe the campgrounds have opened up, after all.
The Watervliet Arsenal is America's oldest, continuously operating arsenal, having begun operations during the War of 1812. Today the Arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and foreign militaries to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry.