When a sudden, destructive storm hits the metropolitan areas of Hamden and New Haven, Connecticut, chances are you’ll see the distinctive orange and black logo of K&J Tree Service as one of the first responders on the scene. As founder and CEO Kyle DeLucia explains, K&J Tree Service – a six-year TCIA member company based in Hamden – is one of the preferred tree care businesses listed by most local insurance companies for
disaster-relief work. This is based, he says, on years of proven rapid response time as well as state-of-the-art equipment that keeps crew members and customers safe during the most difficult takedowns.
According to DeLucia, his company’s focus on doing emergency tree removals just seemed to evolve as the Hamden area saw more and more serious storms pass through. “First it was Hurricane Irene in 2011, then Sandy in 2012 and the October nor’easter, plus a few ice storms,” he says. “Initially, we were the first company brought in for this sort of disaster-
relief work, for reopening roadways and working with municipalities to get first responders through. All of that prepped us to specialize in storm work.”
DeLucia adds that after a tornado hit his hometown of Hamden in May 2018, he and his team worked in conjunction with FEMA and the Town of Hamden to do extensive tree clearing and removal. Then this past August, Hamden was hit with the one-two punch of Hurricane Isaias followed three weeks later by a devastating tornado. “Isaias was August 4, and then on August 27, a tornado ripped through Hamden,” he says. “It was on the ground for 11.1 miles, going all the way from Bethany, through Hamden to North Haven. We have 72 full-time employees, and we’ve been working 16-hour days, seven days a week since these storms. And the calls are still coming in!”
The challenge, says DeLucia, is to prioritize K&J’s emergency work while handling such a huge volume of customer requests. “We have to triage these calls just like any emergency medical responders would,” he explains. “In this last tornado, we had a tree rip right through a house and tear the house in half, with the mom on one side and her kids on the other. I might have clients with limbs down all over their yard, but I have to get to the house with the mom and kids first.”
DeLucia says that in a normal year, about 70% of their work is in removals, with 25% pruning and 5% plant healthcare. “But once the storms hit, all that goes out the window,” he adds. “Plant healthcare definitely is an area I’d like to focus on in the future, though.”
The 31-year-old business owner says he started out cutting grass in his neighborhood before he could even drive. “Eventually, I had about 50 customers,” says DeLucia. “I became an LLC (limited liability company) in March of 2006 and bought my first chipper at 18, working out of my parents’ home.”
He adds that some of his current employees started out with him during those first few years in business. “I attribute all of our success to our team,” he says. “I always have believed in teamwork. I think it’s one of the things that sets us apart as a company, the fact that everyone on our team is so passionate about what they do.
“We also are very involved in our community and have always made ourselves available,” notes DeLucia. “Whenever we’re called on in an emergency or to get a job done, whether it’s the police, the fire department or first responders, they know we’ll do our best to help. Collectively, our team has strong ties in the community, and we try to help in any way we can.”
DeLucia says it’s this sense of community spirit that prompted him – with a nudge and some help from his eight-year-old niece, Kayla – to launch what became known as the “Thank You Tour” this past April, shortly after COVID-19 descended on local hospitals. He and Kayla hand-lettered a thank you sign and, together with some K&J Tree Service employees, assembled a display that included a 50-foot American flag attached to the company’s 38-ton crane. Starting with the Yale New Haven Hospital, where his sister is an ICU nurse, DeLucia got permission to park and thank healthcare workers at hospitals across the state – 14 at last count – with his goose-bump-inducing display. As word spread, K&J teamed up with local police departments and the Connecticut State Police to thank truck drivers, grocery-store employees and other essential workers as well.
“We could never have imagined the impact our #ThankYouTour would have on the healthcare and frontline workers we have visited,” DeLucia says on his website. “Our team at K&J Tree Service is humbled by the response.”
One final thing that DeLucia says sets his company apart is having its TCIA Accreditation credential, which it earned in late February of this year.
“It definitely differentiates us from the competition and is one more notch in our belt,” he says. “I wanted to show our clients that we take safety and every other aspect of our business very seriously. It also helps me personally, because it’s easy for me to hold an employee accountable, but now it helps the company be held accountable as well.”
According to DeLucia, he started the Accreditation process several years ago. “I had pecked away at it, but then another storm would come up and it got pushed aside. Then this past winter, I had updated our business plan and operations manual and had put it in a three-ring binder, and I thought, ‘This is what I needed to finish the Accreditation process.’ Having the support of TCIA behind us was instrumental in getting it done – in the end, the entire team worked on the process and helped on different aspects of it.
“For us, we had most of the systems and procedures in place already, so there really weren’t any surprises,” he continues. “Safety has always been very important to us, but I think the (Accreditation) process kind of helped us solidify and prioritize the importance of safety and employee training. Also, adding that layer of security for our employees has helped with morale. Knowing we’re an accredited company helps them hold their heads high.”
As for the future of K&J Tree Service, DeLucia says, “We’re certainly going to grow the business over the next few years, increase our training and adapt to our new environment. Twenty-twenty has been a crazy year, to say the least!”