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Fire crews transports

Today a number of the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders turned out with the Del Rosa Hot Shots to refresh our chainsaw safety training and certifications, an annual effort which ensures that the volunteers are safe in the field while clearing downed trees across the hiking trails that are our responsibility in the Angeles National Forest of the San Gabriel Mountains.

And what fun it was, too! Among the volunteers who were getting refreshed were members of the awesome Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) which also utilize chainsaws and crosscut saws in the unpaid volunteer work involved in clearing, maintaining, and re-opening hiking trails.

The previous day was spent working in a classroom with 24 other students going through the safety rules and regulations that the U. S. Forest Service require that all fielded employees and volunteers must follow for maximum safety. In addition to the safety training in the classroom we also got formalized instruction of best practices which reduce fatigue and thus improve our safety.

The course material was systematic and very informative, consisting of materials that the experienced volunteers see every year but updated to include changes in policies and procedures and changes in technology and materials for the tools, equipment, personal protective clothing and other aspects of safe chainsaw use in the mountains.

There were other organizations represented among the volunteers getting their training though I did not make a list.

Hot Shot trainer closely monitors student

The Pacific Crest Trail Association is the volunteer organization that takes a proactive and leadership role in maintaining the 2,600+ mile-long hiking trail that runs through California, starting in Mexico and ending in Canada (unless of course you hike the other direction!) Locally the PCTA tackles the segments of the trail that run through the San Gabriel Mountains which overlook the Crystal Lake Recreation Area, so the Trailbuilders and PCTA volunteers at times mingle (and swap improbable stories of life on the trails.)

Classroom training was all-day since there was much to cover. Today's field training involved being carried to a fire line that is being cut along a San Bernardino ridge-line at an altitude of perhaps 4,000 feet, high enough so that toward the end of the sawer evaluation we started getting a little bit of snow.

What made the second day of safety training and evaluation so awesome was that the USFS fire crews were patient, highly competent at their saw work, spent as much time with each of us as was needed to cover safety and tricks of the trade to reduce fatigue, and gave us all one-on-one hands-on saw work which is truly valuable. It is always always wonderful learning from experienced professionals and even though nearly all of the volunteers have extensive saw experience already, we all benefited from seeing how paid professionals approach both mundane and difficult tasks in ways that unpaid volunteers may approach differently.

Each instructor took 3 students and one by one observed how we handled the saws, corrected behavior that was not safety optimal, offered tips on how to be more aware of the end of the saw blade, showed us how to work with the saw powerhead close to the body to reduce fatigue, and reminded us to slow down and take each cut one at a time since the impulse is to go in butchery mode and cut wide swatches which isn't safety optimal.

Traditionally the Trailbuilders don't utilize chainsaws for removing brush, we use handsaws and loppers as well as McLeods and Pulaskis and other tools for removing brush and other growth on the trail and encroaching upon the trail. Using saws that close to the ground and for small diameter brush is not how the Trailbuilders use saws (we do bucking and limbing only) but the fire fighters must work on clearing fire breaks and work on burning ground so we were treated to experience a whole new arena of chainsaw use.

Hot Shot trainer closely monitors student

After the field work we returned to the Mill Creek Hot Shots facility for further training which covered chainsaw cleaning and light repairs. We discovered that the Stihl 660 chainsaw that we had been using had the wrong chain so we learned another valuable lesson: Examine your tools before hitting the field. Some how the wrong chain got installed during a project and the saw was stored again without being cleaned or inspected, so when we took it to the field today we worked with a saw that was not right.

Finally the trainers stepped through the field chain sharpening process with and without the fixture that clamps to the bar since there will be times when we need to continue working with a saw chain that has cut through rock and dirt. After all, when we hike 4 miles with a heavy saw, we want to continue to use it otherwise the effort to haul everything up the mountain could be wasted.

The professional volunteer trail organizations which work to clear rockslides, deadfalls and washouts, and work to establish foot bridges, clear combustibles, carve and plant trail signs and all the other volunteer work that they do, us volunteers are very grateful that the U. S. Forest Service affords us the training we need to ensure our own safety as we exercise the privilege of working in the majesty of our nation's mountains for the benefit of hikers, bikers, backpackers and climbers whom we may never meet.

It's a labor of love, one shared by the many who place their boots on dirt and walk. The Trailbuilders are fortunate to have had enough donations over the past few years to pay for the training we got today without which chainsaws could not be used. Those that donate to groups like the PCTA and the Trailbuilders are unsung heroes that many hikers, bikers, backpackers, and climbers will never meet.

When hikers talk with trail crews we so very often "sound our own horns" without mentioning the people who help us stay current in our training yet rest assured that us volunteers are very grateful for the donations, for the occasional free equipment, and for the dedication of Forest Service employees who go above and beyond the call of duty to work with us to keep us healthy and safe.

* A view across the mountains and valley where we worked on the fire break
* One of the Trailbuilder volunteers before suiting-up for the field training
* Another look at the snow at our elevation
* Another look at the awesome mountains around us
* Del Rosa Hot Shots
* The volunteers starting to gather for the final instruction before we break up
* Another look at the awesome mountains around us
* One of the Trailbuilders suits up for the hands-on training
* One of the Trailbuilders cutting and swamping while the Hot Shot observes
* Another Trailbuilder cuts while being observed
* A look back at the transport vehicles which were left behind due to mud
* Hot Shot swamps for the trainee student
* Hot Shot observes the trainee student, another look at the mountains
* Hot Shot observes the trainee student, another look at the mountains
* Note how closely the Hot Shot trainer watches the trainee during hands-on
* Another team, Hot Shot teacher also closely observing his students
* Another volunteer packs up his equipment
* After the second round of hands-on with a new Hot Shot instructor, some rest
* Hot Shgot instructor continues to swap and observe the trainee
* Toward the end of the hands-on field work before heading for more classroom
* Toward the end of the hands-on field work before heading for more classroom
* Toward the end of the hands-on field work before heading for more classroom
* Snow approaching! We should get off the mountain before too much mud comes

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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This web site is not operated or maintained by the US Forest Service, and the USFS does not have any responsibility for the contents of any page provided on the http://CrystalLake.Name/ web site. Also this web site is not connected in any way with any of the volunteer organizations that are mentioned in various web pages, including the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders (SGMTBs) or the Angeles Volunteers Association (AVA.) This web site is privately owned and operated. Please note that information on this web page may be inaccurate.

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