Bishop’s Tree Service Respectfully
Ushers an Historical Torrey Pine into its Afterlife
Wednesday June 24, 2015/ Written by Destiny Irons
Trees don’t live forever. All trees have lifespans, just like people. An urban tree lives on average only 42 years. That’s it. The city is tough on them. They get beat up by infrastructure—sidewalks, irrigation ditches, power lines and curbs. In native soils, native trees last longer. But, in the urban jungle, some trees only live 15 years. One 70 plus-year-old Torrey Pine at San Diego Botanic Garden, planted in an urban rainforest, was showing some signs of being ready to leave this world. The 30-ton tree had to go.
Julian Duval, director of the garden, said some volunteers noticed the tree, which had grown on a slope, was looking unstable. The pine was leaning at an increasingly alarming rate, as if eavesdropping on the garden on the pathway 80 feet below.
Duval called Brian Bishop from Bishop’s Tree Service. Bishop has been volunteering his services to the garden for ten years. They have a relationship built upon mutual understanding and respect. Duval says, “We trust his work. He understands our goals here, which may be a little different than what other tree trimmers would appreciate. We appreciate his sensitivity to the needs we have here as a public garden.”
Bishop looked at the tree and immediately determined it was an ‘active failure.’ He was sad to see it go, but honored to take it out in the most respectful way possible. Bishops says, “Trees are individuals, not species. They have personality. They have spunk. They have an intangible thing that is hard to put into words.”
This particular tree had insinuated itself deeply into its surrounding environment, and not just by digging its roots throughout the slope. It’s branches, weighing from 30-40 pounds to 3,000 pounds each, had woven themselves into the canopy of the other trees and plants in the rainforest.
When cut away from the tree, the massive falling branches would take out any plant in their way down, until flattening everything on the ground upon landing. Duval was worried about collateral damage to the dense plant life surrounding the trees, as some species are rare and costly.
Normally, a tree trimmer would just bring in a crane and be done with the whole thing in about half a day. This dense section of the garden had no room for a crane or any kind of heavy equipment.
Bishop’s Tree Service also needed a way to remove tons of extremely heavy wood from the area without their usual equipment. The Garden also wanted to do something with the huge quantities of pine that the tree would yield.
For Bishop’s Tree Service, there was no quick and easy solution. “People always jump into a big task with no preparation. I have to look at the whole workspace. Everything about that workspace is understanding the physiology of the trees there.”
Brian Bishop proposed an ingenious rigging system triangulated from two other adjacent healthy Torrey Pines. The rigging system gave them three points of attachment, with each set of ropes holding up to 25,000 pounds, so that if one rope failed two more would back it up.
Each line was wrapped all the way to the base of the tree, ending in a friction device. With one man up in the Torrey Pine cutting and two other holding ropes on the ground, they could gently swing each severed branch through a safe pathway (cleared by carefully removing some plants and tying others back) lowering it to the landing zone.
Setting up the rigging properly and clearing the area took a full days work, with Bishop meeting with his workers multiple times to discuss risk management, methodology and strategy.
The risk of exposure for the tree trimmer is usually 15 minutes on a tree. This project would take three to four days. Bishop says, “We wanted things to move very slowly, because one of the leading causes of death for tree trimmers is called ‘struck-bys.’ Too often something comes loose from the rigging and hits someone. Even a 50 pound branch, coming from 50 feet in the air, becomes horribly deadly.”
Bishop’s Tree Service removed the tree down to the stump, with minor collateral damage. Duval says, “The plants that took a hit are all repairable and replaceable. The extent of how they had to pull these huge pieces of wood out of here—it’s amazing that they did as well as they did.”
Bishop says, “I love the trees. I also love the challenge of taking one out. But it hurts a little to see the big ones go. Some trees are not so impressive, but you get some individuals that are epic, so to see those have an afterlife is really cool.”
Usually 95% of a removed tree ends up as mulch. But the Garden wanted this historical tree to have an afterlife, as founders Charles and Ruth Larabee likely planted it. Duval says, “We immediately began to think of how we could make use of the wood to memorialize not only the tree, but the people who planted the tree.” The Garden has decided, with some funds provided by Councilman Dave Roberts, to make some furnishings for the Larabee house and smaller items for the gift shop.
The smaller branches will be mulch, and the wood the Garden doesn’t use will be donated to Palomar College’s woodworking program. Even the stump will be used as a place to home epiphytes, until it and its roots eventually decay and become part of the soil.
Duval and the San Diego Botanic Garden couldn’t be happier with the work Bishop did and the sensitivity his workers had for the Garden and the tree. Bishop says, “Trees define our communities, our lives; they are landmarks, they are the thing that we feel but most people don’t really see. They affect our attitudes. For the trees themselves, you want to hire someone who has some passion about it, for whom it isn’t just a job but a chosen profession or purpose.”
Thursday, June 12th, 2008 | Issue 24, Volume 12
FALLBROOK — On Wednesday, June 4, North County Fire Protection District, Pala Fire and Bishop’s Tree Service conducted a training exercise for emergency workers to gain more expertise in rescuing tree trimmers in incidents involving palm trees.
On-site while the training took place was Rich Magargal, a 45-year veteran certified tree worker who has decades of experience trimming palm trees.
Magargal, the author of an article entitled "Beware the Hidden Dangers of Palms," says there is a distinct danger that a tree trimmer can be suffocated beneath a skirt of dead fronds when trimming the two palm species commonly found in California, the Mexican fan palm and the California fan palm. It is not unusual in some areas to have palms that are 100 years old.
Within the past year, a tree worker in Fallbrook with 15 years of experience suffocated beneath a 10- to 12-foot skirt of dead fronds while trimming a palm. It was reported that emergency workers spent 40 minutes trying to rescue the worker.
"Suffocation accidents are the result of fronds sliding down, or ‘sloughing,’ onto the climber," Magargal said. "There is absolutely nothing he or she can do to remove them because their entire body is forced down and against the palm trunk with hundreds of pounds of pressure. The force of the fronds is primarily on the head of the climber, forcing the chin into the chest. This is how suffocation occurs."
Magargal quoted John Ball, a professor at South Dakota State University: In his article, Magargal said the safest way to trim palms trees is with the use of aerial equipment, rather than the trimmer climbing the tree, and for residents to employ the service of a professional tree service that uses trained, experienced personnel.
Encinitas-based Bishop’s Tree Service Inc., who took a proactive role in this exercise, has served San Diego County since 1978. Their motto is "Safety first!"
Brian Bishop positions himself under the dead branches of a palm tree for the purposes of the safety drill. North County Fire and Pala firefighters learned how to rescue a tree trimmer trapped under the weight of dead palm branches. - Paul Gallaher photo
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North County Fire Battalion Chief Steve Abbott (right) listens as Brian Bishop, owner of Bishop’s Tree Service, explains his plan for a rescue drill Wednesday, June 4, on Mission Road. Bishop is a certified arborist and president of the Professional Tree Care Association. - Paul Gallaher photo
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Bishop climbs a palm tree to position himself to be “rescued” during the safety drill. - Paul Gallaher photo
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FALLBROOK -- Firefighters and tree trimmers simulated two palm tree rescues Wednesday morning during a drill off East Mission Road, using a fire engine with a ladder and shooting footage for a training video.
Officials said a tragedy involving 28-year-old tree trimmer Jorge Garcia last fall prompted the North County Fire Protection District to improve its training for a potentially fatal situation in which an arborist gets stuck below a pile of palm fronds called a "slough."
"Usually the guy stays alive for an hour," said Brian Bishop, who owns Bishop's Tree Service and volunteered to simulate a tree trimmer stuck 30 feet in the air. "It's not that he's crushed, it's just he can't move and slowly suffocates."
For rescuers, the trick is to extricate the victim quickly while ensuring their own safety.
"These things can weigh 500 to 1,000 pounds and can kill a rescuer just as easily as it can kill the person who's trapped," said John McKnight, a North County Fire engineer who helped film the training video.
Bishop estimated that about 100 tree trimmers have died throughout Southern California in the last five years while trapped beneath dislodged palm fronds.
It's a relatively rare occurrence, but one that's preventable, because the victims usually survive the impact of fronds sliding down on top of them.
Experts said rescues are relatively rare because firefighters haven't been trained to perform them, and that most trimmers who have survived a slough were able to extricate themselves without assistance.
"Usually what happens is the fire department is called out, and they get there and find a guy trapped under the palm fronds, and they can't figure out how to get him down," said Bishop.
Richard Magargal, a Borrego Springs arborist who helped stage Wednesday's drill, said that he was once trapped in a slough.
"It's terrifying, of course," Magargal recalled. "You can't breathe, and you have just minutes" to get out.
He said California and Arizona are where most of the nation's palm trees grow tall enough for the sloughs to be fatal.
In Garcia's case, which happened on Sleeping Indian Road near Verde Avenue in November, the trimmer was 35 feet in the air, strapped "lumberjack style" to the trunk of a palm tree when the tree sloughed and buried him with the dry, heavy fronds.
He was pronounced dead at the scene, although it was uncertain at what point he died. It took firefighters several hours to figure out how to get him down.
On Wednesday, officials said they aim to figure out how to rescue a tree trimmer before he suffocates.
North County Fire Division Chief Steve Abbott said extricating someone from a palm tree slough is one of the most dangerous and complicated rescues that firefighters must perform, because the trees are often out of reach of ladder engines.
"It might be a situation where the tree is in the backyard, and we can't get a ladder truck to it," Abbott said. "There's a lot of things that can go wrong -- a lot of hazards to the firefighter. If you pull the fronds away at the wrong spot, they could pull them down on the victim … and make the situation worse."
In addition, if enough palm fronds land on an engine's ladder, it could collapse because it's not built to support more than a few people, he said.
During the simulation, Bishop said the proper way to perform a palm tree rescue is to pull away the dead fronds directly above the trapped victim, until the person is free and can either climb down or be pulled onto a ladder.
Abbott said he hoped the district's training video will spread awareness. Once completed, it may be distributed nationally as a primer for fire departments, he said.