Super Storm Cleanup

10 Tips to get you started

Even smaller branches can be a problem - a little saw like this can get quite a bit done.

At the time of writing (October 2012) the Eastern USA has just been hit by Hurricane Sandy. Thousands of homes in the path of the storm still remain without power, roads are blocked by debris and in the middle of this people are trying to put their lives back together.

Key to this is getting transport running again - with roads blocked emergency services can't get where they are needed, repair crews can't get the powerlines reinstated and those in need of help can be stranded in their homes, possibly without heat, power, food or water!

Own a chainsaw? Then you can help.

A large proportion of wood burners own chainsaws and use them routinely when processing their own wood. If your own situation is safe then get out there and help get your neighbourhood working again. With some luck you'll also get some useful firewood for the future.

Here are eight tips to get you started

1. Get your priorities straight

This might be a good job for someone experienced with a saw - clear the way quiclly so emergency services can pass.

You are here to help, so offer it where it will be most welcome. 82 year old Gladys on the corner whose drive way is blocked is a higher priority than the 20 black locust trees blown down in local park land.

Likewise, it is important to get roads running again swiftly, but remember that highways crews will be working the main roads. Consider helping in the less heavily trafficked areas which might not see help for weeks otherwise.

2. Offer to help, don't ask for firewood

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Be sensitive and sympathetic - if a tree has just fallen on someone's house or car, an offer to help might be a blessing, but if you go in begging for the firewood expect to be given short shrift.

3. Cut wood, stack it and move on

Don't waste time splitting wood, transporting it home and splitting it for your wood pile. There will be plenty of time for that in the weeks ahead. If the landowners offers you the firewood stack it neatly on the driveway and come back for it when the clean up is done.

4. Know your limits

A storm damaged tree blocks the road.

If you are a pro and know what you are doing then you might consider the nasty tree, hung up over a driveway. If not stay well clear - there will be plenty to do without looking for dangerous work. Leave anything dangerous or problematic to the experts. Remember you are there to help, not cause more problems.

5. Be aware of hazards and stay safe

Power cables may be tangled in a tree, or loose on the ground.

Debris may be lodged in fallen timber, ready to mangle your saw.

Look out for hazards underfoot from storm damage.

Consider passers-by and your surroundings - perhaps close and area where you are working.

When trees fall branches can be under a lot of tension. A sprung branch can be lethal if cut carelessly. If you don't know how to handle them stick with easier work.

6. Communicate clearly

You need to give people a clear expectation of what you are doing. If all you can do is buck logs to length to clear the drive way then you don't want them expecting you to clean up every scrap of wood. Just let people know your limits before you fire up a saw.

7. Find a buddy

A fire crew clear a major road following a storm

Work is safer, faster and more fun if you have a buddy to work with. Spread the word around your neighbourhood, the more people who can get out there and help the faster the work will be done.

Not everyone needs a saw, there is plenty of room for people moving and stacking cut logs and generally clearing up debris.

8. Think about your liability

Sad as it is, it is possible someone may try and exploit your generosity further down the line by suing for damages to property. If you are helping friends and neighbours this is unlikely to be and issue (and in reality it is very unlikely to happen unless you do cause serious damage - see points 4 and 5!).

If you feel uncomfortable consider getting a simple written agreement drawn up, limiting your liability.

9. Don't be greedy, but don't be afraid to ask...

If you want to keep the firewood don't be afraid to ask for it - perhaps offer to come back in a week or so and pick it up from their drive. Don't be greedy though, there will be plenty of wood around for the taking over the coming months, and they may need your help but also want the firewood for themselves.

10. Use the right kit

Sometimes in an emergency you need to make do or improvise but having the right kit is better. Keep your saw sharp, wear the right protective equipment and if a job is too big for your saw leave it for someone else.

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