This article originally appeared in the 2023 Winter Issue of Two More Chains.
Looking at 2022’s reported instances of chainsaw injuries, one number jumps out: More than twice as many cuts to swampers as sawyers.
Is this uncharacteristically high? We don’t know. Digging around to try to put this into context, it becomes apparent that no industry uses chainsaws the way we do in the wildland fire service: in two-person teams, working symbiotically, efficiently, and rapidly.
The details of these injuries are scant. Of the seven chainsaw cut injuries reported to the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, only one included more detailed information in the form of a Rapid Lessons Sharing document.
|Injured Person||Injury Description|
|Sawyer||3″ gash to wrist, damaged tendons|
|Sawyer||Laceration to left arm|
|Swamper||4″ laceration to the back of the leg|
|Swamper||Cut to the shin and calf|
|Swamper||Cut to the hand|
|Swamper||Cut to shin|
|Swamper||8” long x 2” deep cut to the calf|
In the Moose Fire Chainsaw Cut RLS from 2022, a swamper’s leg was struck when the saw kicked back while cutting a small tree. The RLS highlights a key lesson that can be applied across all types of sawyer/swamper operations:
- Swampers should locate themselves on the far side of the tree, or farther away from the sawyer.
The very serious nature of these incidents is starkly revealed when we recall the 2017 Lakeside Fire Chainsaw Incident Fatality. A hand crew saw team was working on a steep, brushy, rocky slope in southern California when the swamper lost his balance and fell onto the chainsaw bar, sustaining a serious cut to the back of his thigh. Several days later, he tragically died from his injuries in the hospital.
Consider the impact of the work environment and human factors in creating situations in which saw accidents are more likely:
- Working in difficult vegetation, steep slopes, bad footing.
- Physical fatigue in either member of the saw team.
- Decreased mental acuity from lack of sleep, stress, anxiety.
- Pressure to complete work quickly and perceived pressure from tight work spacing.
- Inexperience with the workflow and body mechanics of the sawyer/swamper dynamic.
- What else?