The new Southwest Fire Defense grapplesaw truck crane reaches above a tree behind a home on Spruce Street in Los Alamos by remote control from across the street from the house. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
The grapplesaw drops a large log. The yellow saw itself can be seen tucked into the unit outside a home in Pojoaque Valley. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Daniel Martinez, owner of Southwest Fire Defense, operates the crane using a remote control unit that hangs from his neck. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
The crane brings a section of the tree to the ground on the front side of the house from where Southwest Fire Defense will run it through a chipper for easy removal from the property. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The joy of having big trees in the yard comes with responsibility, work and sometimes even worries. What if that huge branch or the entire tree falls on my home or my neighbor’s home? This year, many people are finding that there has been tremendous growth and their trees have become they can’t manage themselves with a saw and a pick-up truck. Insurance companies are getting into the picture, requiring homeowners to take care of precarious trees in order for policies to remain in force.
The Los Alamos Reporter recently got to witness firsthand the operation of a new Bik grapplesaw truck at the invitation of Daniel Martinez, owner of Southwest Fire Defense during a couple of jobs in Pojoaque Valley and Los Alamos.
“I always wanted to get a crane – a stick boom crane – and all of a sudden in the trade magazines for the tree business, I started seeing these grapplesaw trucks. I was just amazed by them, so I started doing research and looking at the price but I thought there was no way I could get into something like that”, Martinez said.
Eventually, Martinez applied to purchase the Bik grapplesaw truck he now operates, and was approved.
“I couldn’t believe it. We had to put a pretty good chunk of money down, but it got approved and we got to start going through the build sheet and the specifications and determine what we wanted and it all started coming together,” he said. “They started building the truck in March and we got it in August”.
Martinez said that with COVID and the way the economy has turned, Southwest Fire Defense was having a hard time finding and retaining employees. With the new truck, jobs that took four or five employees to complete can be done by Martinez and one other person.
“It is less strenuous and easier on us physically. It just changes the whole dynamic with how efficient we can be. It keeps my worker’s compensation down. It also eliminates human error because instead of having a climber in the tree making a mistake, or somebody in a bucket truck making a mistake, everything is now equipment-run, so that takes a lot of risk out of the work,” he said.
Martinez said his life is easier now that he doesn’t have to worry about employees showing up to work.
“I feel very fortunate to have the new truck. It’s going to be a big game-changer for us,” he said.
Martinez said some of his existing customers were concerned that the types of jobs Southwest undertakes would change with the new equipment.
“We’re not over-busy anymore. We are taking on jobs of all sizes – small and big. What we charge is not going to change because of the new equipment. What the new truck does is it helps me get in and out of a job faster which means less time and money that I have to spend on that job. It just makes me more efficient but doesn’t make my prices higher,” he said.
What’s fascinating to watch is how small a space the truck needs in which to maneuver and how high the crane unit can reach. Watching the claws tighten around the tree and the saw unfold to cut the trunk or branch all done by a remote control units suspended from Martinez’s neck is mesmerizing. The unit places the wood exactly where the operator wants it to go and there is no risk dropping the wood from above.
Martinez and his crew take pride in how they leave a property after removing or trimming a tree.
“If someone wants me to leave what we take down, I’ll do it, but a lot of times when people see how much stuff is on the ground they decide to have us haul it off. Because we have the equipment to cut up, mulch and haul the trimmings it doesn’t cost as much as people might think,” he said.
Martinez noted that sometimes customers are concerned that removing a tree from their property could result in damage in damage to their own or their neighbors home or fence.
“We are 100 percent certified to operate all our equipment. So many people are not certified to operate bucket trucks, cranes or equipment like that. I take a lot of pride in the fact that we are fully-trained and certified to do this work. Some tree companies use landscaper insurance policies and with those you can’t work more than about 10-12 feet off the ground. If something happens, we are covered.” he said.
For more information, call Southwest Fire Defense, (505) 508-3953.
Daniel Martinez prepares to extend the crane boom into the air. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
The crane angles the grapplesaw unit into position on the tree that is to be removed. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
One of the large sections of a tree removed from the Pojoaque Valley location without damage to the property or buildings located nearby. Courtesy photo
The crane lifts the grapplesaw unit to the top of the tree. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com