Southwest Fire Defense’s two trucks work on a recent project. Courtesy photo
A Southwest Fire Defense crew member lowers a branch safely to the ground. Courtesy photo
The Southwest Fire Defense crew maneuvers the bucket truck into a narrow area in order to reach a tree behind a Los Alamos home. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
As trees begin to bud out and people start cleaning up dead vegetation around their homes, the issue of defensible space again crosses our minds.
Since recent windstorms uprooted trees and dropped branches, some members of the community have been sawing branches, cutting wood to burn and hauling off whatever they can manage by themselves. Others have had to call in the “big guys” – the experts who are trained to remove large trees or overhanging branches safely without damage or in some cases, additional damage to property or landscaping.
In Los Alamos, many people are calling Daniel Martinez of Southwest Fire Defense, LLC to do the job for them. A lifelong resident of Northern New Mexico, Martinez got into the business after father, Danny Martinez, got him his first defensible space job in Pecos when he just had a truck and a flatbed trailer.
“I was just figuring out how to put it all together. We rented a skid loader so that we could move the logs around after thinning out the 14-acre property and pile them up so that the owner’s friends could come through and get the wood. That was a great success and the people just loved the work we did and I realized it might be possible to make a successful business out of this work,” Martinez said.
He said a lady asked him if he could remove a dead tree from next to her house.
“Having grown up with saws getting firewood my whole life, I went and looked at the tree and realized I could bring it down for her. I rented a lift, read some books and taught myself. One thing led to another and before I knew it, Southwest Fire Defense became a full-blown company in 2014. Once we got fully-insured and became a limited liability corporation we started putting cards together and advertising on social media. Slowly but surely calls started coming through,” Martinez said.
A firefighter with the Los Alamos Fire Department, Martinez said he has the ideal work schedule with 49 hours on shift followed by 96 hours off during which he can operate his business. He acknowledges that he is a people person and enjoys communicating with his customers.
“The more you communicate with people the better and the more our work stands out. Our motto is to always go above and beyond. Like I tell my guys, always leave a property looking better than when you arrived there,” he said.
Southwest Fire Defense carries workers compensation insurance which Martinez said not all businesses do.
“It’s a big thing for us. We’re insured from A to Z with everything. If someone is working on your property cutting a tree and they fall out of a tree or out of a bucket and they don’t have the right insurance, they can come after the homeowner. A lot of people don’t realize this so it is very important when you hire someone that you research them and find out if they are fully-insured,” he said.
Southwest Fire Defense got their first bucket truck in 2016 and just picked up a 2019 Freightliner this year. What’s unique about the new truck is that it has an elevator in it so it gets up to about a 75 feet working height. Martinez said the company has two chippers – one which can chip up to a 15-inch diameter branch and the other up to 12 inches.
“We have mini stand-behind skids that are really neat pieces of machinery because you can pick up wood and save your guys’ backs. You can pick up 1,500 lbs with them,” he said.
As well as extensive residential and commercial jobs throughout the area, Southwest Fire Defense is contracted with the City of Santa Fe Parks and Recreation and Santa Fe County for work along their roads. They recently did a big fire wise project for Rio Arriba County in Tierra Amarilla and have work lined up at the Los Alamos Golf Course and for Jemez Mountains Electrical Cooperative.
Miguel Hoffman, Southwest’s arborist has his tree risk assessment qualification so Martinez said he is able to do tree health assessments. Martinez, Hoffman and David Boyd are all certified line clearance arborists. Martinez and Boyd also have their wildland fire certifications.
Martinez spoke of the recent storms that took such a toll on trees in the area.
“Bomb cycle storms don’t happen all the time – it’s an act of God – but I encourage people to be just a little proactive. There are things you can observe on the ground by just looking for earth movement or cracking in the ground or signs of the roots lifting. That shows that the ground is soft and the root system isn’t very deep. Heavy winds could push it over. The problem was there was a lot of moisture on the ground and the wind was pushing the trees over. The ground has dried up a little now but it still important to watch for changes in the ground,” he said.
Martinez suggests always being aware of your surroundings around trees.
“A lot of time there are branches that have broken and they are just resting on another branch and when you get some high winds, even a small branch could kill someone,” he said.
Asked about pruning or trimming trees, Martinez said people need to be careful not to have trees over-pruned.
“It’s important that the arborist follows the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards in tree pruning – that’s what the arborist really focuses on. You don’t want people to go in and over take trees. The last thing you want is someone to come in and top trees – it’s extremely bad for them and a lot of times people will tell you they are arborists when they’re not so I suggest really looking at people’s credentials who come to give you an opinion. Looking for a company that has a certified arborist is a really big deal to make sure that your trees get the proper care that they need and are not massacred,” he said.
Martinez said safety is of the utmost importance for his crew.
“We look at each job to assess the safety needs individually. We have to follow all the rules to make sure none of my guys get injured, that we don’t damage a homeowners property and that we don’t damage my vehicles. Keeping everyone safe is my priority,” he said.
Martinez said his passion in life is for his family and helping people. He said that combined with his love of the outdoors and its challenges is how Southwest Life Defense came to life. He believes the services the company provides are necessary for property owners to maintain a beautiful and safe environment.
Services provided include arborist tree health services, tree trimming and removal, stump grinding, chipping and defensible space work.
Martinez will present at the Los Alamos Fire Department Wildfire Day Saturday parked in the Los Alamos Police Department area by Ashley Pond.
For more information, call 505.508.3953 or email email@example.com.
A Southwest Fire Defense crew member atop a dead tree the company recently took down. Courtesy photo
Southwest Fire Defense’s bucket trucks can reach height of some 75 feet seen here as crew member Esteban Vigil guides the bucket to where he wants to start removing branches. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com