You Can’t Let Your Guard Down


The title for this week’s “Woods to Mill” comes from a quote I heard from a cutter. He had been hit in the head by a limb and survived to talk about it. It’s a perfect place to start as I describe my experience of “Not Letting My Guard Down!

Earlier this week, I was scheduled for a chainsaw training session. The evening before, I had sharpened my saw, checked all the equipment, and made sure that everything was ready for the next day. In the morning, I traveled to a state park to work with employees on chainsaw use, safe limbing techniques, filing, and other things in between. I met with the park manager early so we could go to the training site and see what trees we had to cut for class. During the course of our review, I asked him if they had cell phone coverage in the area, and he confirmed there was, and in an emergency, we could call 911. In addition to that, our class included three students that were from the park and would have 2-way radios. I made the comment that I didn’t expect anything to happen, but you just never know.

I spent the morning at one of the outdoor shelters, talking about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), chainsaw safety features, how to file a chain, proper starting techniques, OSHA, etc. After lunch, we took a short drive to get to the site where we would use the saws to practice safe limbing techniques. We aren’t allowed to fell trees in state parks between April and October because of the endangered Indiana Bat, so the trees we were looking at were already on the ground. All of those trees could be used for chainsaw safety training or limbing instruction. Not the ideal situation, but there was definitely a training application!  The tree I picked was lying on the ground and would be great for the Limb Lock, Top Lock, and Tongue-and-Groove cuts. These cuts are used to remove limbs that may be under pressure, and the technique helps prevent the sudden release of stored energy which could injure the chainsaw operator.

Soon after I started trimming limbs, I noticed a yellow jacket locked on my glove. He seemed to be trying his best to get my attention and “encourage” me to move to another spot! I knew there was a nest close by and ran up the bank. When I reached the parking lot, I could see there were multiple bees on my shirt, pants, and gloves. Knocking them off was time-consuming, and by the time I reached the parking lot, I counted two stings on my hands, one on the elbow and three in the stomach. One of the students offered me Benadryl, which I should have accepted but didn’t When I counted the stings, I had 6 of them. That is a lot, but I know my chainsaw pants and gloves prevented a worse envenomation. Just like in the circus, I knew that “The Show Must Go On,” and I got right back into instructor mode but in a different area. The stings were annoying but nothing I couldn’t live with. My plan was to work the remainder of the day and go home to “lick my wounds” and recover.

Within 15 minutes, I began to feel dizzy and faint. I knew if I didn’t sit down that I would be going down when I passed out! I don’t know how the group around me would describe the situation, but they must have been concerned because they went into action, calling for help from the park office. I started getting questions like, “What’s your name?”, “Are you having any trouble breathing or swallowing?”, “How old are you” and “Are you allergic to bee stings?” Those are all good questions for a guy who just “took a knee”! The next thing I remember is the same guy offering me Benadryl tablets again, and this time, I took them! I was feeling better in 5-10 minutes and was back on my feet before the squad arrived. When they got there, I told them I was all right and didn’t have any lingering side effects. I signed a release, which made it legal because I had declined that free ride to the hospital. I’m really more stubborn than smart!

There are a lot of ways to sum that day up. I had an allergic reaction to yellow jackets and recovered! I completed the chainsaw training, which accomplished what I went there to do, and I drove back home with an experience that I won’t forget anytime soon!  

We plan and prepare for things like retirement, power outages, COVID toilet paper shortages, etc., but we never spend enough time preparing for a medical emergency. Take time to get prepared. Have an action plan. Invest in a first aid kit and know what’s in it. A logger’s first aid kit includes Diphenhydramine HCL or Benadryl. If you’re a logger working in a remote site, share your location with the local fire department. The time you save them may be what it takes to save someone’s life!  Don’t ever work alone, and always remember, “You Can’t Let Your Guard Down!”