Minnesota Arborist Rescue Training for First Responders

Duluth Fire Department members taking part in cross-training with arborists on rescues at height included, from left, firefighters Kevin Youngblom and Steve Malzacher, fire-equipment operator Dave Torgerson and Captain Dan Smith. All photos courtesy of Louise Levy, CTSP.

In May and October of 2021, Levy Tree Care, LLC, an 11-year TCIA member company based in Duluth, Minnesota, and Trees & Me, a first-year TCIA member company based in Saint Paul, Minn., organized two aerial-rescue training sessions for local first responders, one each in Bloomington and Duluth, Minn. This article is intended to show a little bit of what worked and what didn’t in organizing and executing these events in order to help others organize similar events with first responders in their own areas.

Several arborist aerial-rescue trainings are already established around the country, led by talented and skilled arborist educators. We wanted to develop a home-grown curriculum for Minnesota first responders that recognizes during each training both the time constraints of the arborist instructor team as well as the needs and backgrounds of the first responders.

Installing an access line appeared to be the greatest challenge when preparing for an in-tree rescue. Shown here with arborist Kiley Mackereth, center, are firefighters Steve Malzacher and Kevin Youngblom.

None of us are professionally trained educators. All of us are full-time arborists. Some of us are tree care business owners. For our first year, we worked closely with fire departments in Bloomington and Duluth. We established a fire-department point of contact and assembled instructor teams of practicing arborists interested in joining this initiative.

As of this writing, in February 2022, there is no partnership with either the Minnesota Chapter of ISA or the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) to assist with training logistics. However, both lead instructors, Chad Giblin, owner of Trees & Me, and Louise Levy, owner of Levy Tree Care, LLC, serve on the Minnesota Society of Arboriculture’s Programs and Education Committee. Additionally, we have not charged a registration fee, provided lunch or compensated instructors, except for a small ($75/instructor) honorarium generously contributed by the Duluth Fire Department.

The curriculum and agenda for each of the two iterations were developed collaboratively between the instructor team and the fire departments. Early on we made a practical decision to focus on the gear the firefighters already had in their rope-rescue kits, since this is what they would be required to use during an actual rescue.

We showed them a range of climbing systems they might encounter at a tree-work job site.

As you might expect, with a half-day time frame, a content-rich agenda and a decision to feed off of what was most engaging to the firefighters, we did not make it to all items on the agenda. We showed them a range of climbing systems they might encounter at a tree-work job site. We did not, however, spend time having them learn or use these systems, because this equipment is not part of their industry-approved rescue gear.

Early on we made a practical decision to focus on the gear the firefighters already had in their rope-rescue kits, since this is what they would be required to use during an actual rescue. In front here is Bloomington fire captain Joe Zinniel.

Each training started with a safety briefing led by a first responder, including a review of their trauma kit, followed by an arborist safety briefing led by a member of the arborist instructor team. During these briefings, we discussed what a fire-department crew might expect to find, or not find, in a tree-crew’s pre-work protocol, i.e., a job-site safety form, our industry-specific safety norms and behaviors – i.e., ISA Certified Arborist, TCIA Certified Treecare Safety Professional – and arborist first-aid kits. Using the example of a recent Washington State arborist fatality,1 we also discussed to what extent first responders would or would not utilize the tree-worker’s expertise and knowledge at the rescue site.

One thing we found to be valuable to the firefighters was to design skill drills and rescue scenarios in which they use their rope-rescue kits. Shown are firefighter Kevin Youngblom with Brian Luedtke, arborist with Holistic Tree Care.

One thing we found to be valuable to the firefighters was to design skill drills and rescue scenarios in which they use their rope-rescue kits. Sometimes we threw in a foot ascender to demonstrate a small tweak to their approved tool kit. Throwlines, throw balls and installation devices, i.e., Big Shot, APTA (Air Powered Tree Access launcher), etc., were new tools to both departments. Installing an access line appeared to be the greatest challenge when preparing for an in-tree rescue.

After two iterations of this training, our most significant take-aways are:

  • Arborist in-tree rescues are a low-frequency, high-risk event for first responders, so the more arborists can do to prepare the job site for a potential rescue, the easier it is for them to do their jobs.
  • If we systematically take the time to install a second, dedicated access line, or at least a throwline, that can be used to install a first responder’s rope, then the rescue can start more quickly.
  • The more prepared a tree crew is for a potential accident, the easier it is for first responders to help.
  • Communication is critical during a rescue. Being able and effective at providing critical information to rescue teams may speed up the rescue and save lives. Practicing the collection and conveyance of this knowledge will make it easier during an actual rescue.

The Duluth training was covered by local news, which you can view here:

We do not consider the material presented in this article to be proprietary. We welcome other arborists to use the sample agenda (Figure 1) as a starting point for their own ideas and efforts. Our goal is that we are safer, more caring and more collaborative within our communities.

Figure 1: Sample agenda.

May 7th, 2021
Firefighter-Arborist Rescue Training
Bloomington Fire Department 
1 – 1:15 PM: Introductions & Safety Briefing
BFD safety briefing including COVID protocols, Kris Kaiser, BFD.
MSA/Arborist safety briefing

1:15 – 1:45 PM: Fire Dept. Operations
EMS Overview, Captain Joe Zinniel, BFD.
Pre-FD arrival victim care
What happens after FD arrives on-scene?
Trauma assessment
What can arborists do to bring FD up-to-speed as quickly and efficiently as possible?
What other role(s) can arborists play?

1:45 – 2:30 PM: Arborist Operations & Equipment
What can FD expect to find or experience on a typical job site?
What are the signs/symptoms of a dysfunctional job site and unsafe conditions?
Anchors (tie in points)
Biomechanics of a good anchor
Species factors
Warning signs
Arborist rope access systems
Rope Installation
Moving Rope Systems (MRS)
Stationary Rope Systems (SRS)
Anchor Systems (Canopy vs Basal)
Lowerable vs non-lowerable basal anchor systems
Arborist Aerial Rescue: Demo rescue using typical equipment

2:30 – 6:00 PM: Rescue Scenarios
Unresponsive climber on MRS (no lanyard)
Unresponsive climber on MRS (with lanyard)
Responsive climber on SRS (all ascenders attached, no lanyard)
Unresponsive climber on SRS (no ascenders attached, with lanyard)
Climber pinned with lanyard and gaffs (rescue performed on-ground)
Stuck non-arborist climber 

Arborist Instructor Team Credentials
TCIA Certified Treecare Safety Professional: Louise Levy, Nick Nicklaus, Rod Rodman, Brian Volz
ISA Certified Arborist: Chad Giblin, Nick Grebe, Louise Levy, Brian Luedtke, Nick Nicklaus, Kiley Mackereth, Rod Rodman, Brian Volz
ISA Certified Treeworker: Nick Nicklaus
ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualified: Louise Levy, Rod Rodman, Brian Volz
ISA Municipal Specialty: Brian Volz
MN DNR Tree Inspector: Brian Volz
MN Nursery and Landscape Association Certified Professional: Chad Giblin, Louise Levy
TCIA Tree Care Academy: Nick Nicklaus (all modules!)

References

1. http://www.firelawblog.com/2021/06/16/washington-fire-department-sued-over-tech-rescue-death/

Louise Levy, CTSP, Certified Arborist, is owner of Levy Tree Care, LLC, an 11-year TCIA member company based in Duluth, Minn. She was also co-lead instructor for these training events.

Chad Giblin, Certified Arborist, is owner of Trees & Me, a first-year TCIA member company based in Saint Paul, Minn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Click to listen highlighted text!