Chainsaw safety isn’t a joke, wear protection

Close call with chainsaw averted by safety gear!

Melinda Larsen holds up an example of safety chaps.
(Courtesy photo for the Illinois Valley News)

‘Tis the season to make firewood, do some brushing and cut Christmas trees. That means the chainsaws come out. But in just a split second a chainsaw accident can change lives forever.
That’s what almost happened to one Cave Junction family. However their potential tragedy was averted because Liz Paulsen, co-owner of Dave’s Outdoor Power Equipment, pretty much insisted that they buy chainsaw safety chaps.
“Really, it’s just smart – and so much cheaper – to invest in safety gear rather than pay for a trip to the ER,” Paulsen said, “because it’s not ‘if’ it happens, but ‘when’.”
Paulsen added that one of the most common chainsaw injuries is when “the saw kicks back and hits the femoral artery in the legs. You can bleed out in seconds and there’s no coming back from that.”
According to Melinda Larsen that’s what nearly happened to her daughter Erica, who’d been learning how to use a chainsaw on their hobby farm just outside of Cave Junction.
“It happened so fast, we were all standing there, stunned, we couldn’t even speak,” Larsen said. “We were so amazed at what happened. Erica bent to cut a limb and the saw kicked back. It really could have hit her femoral artery. My daughter only weighs 100 pounds – it wouldn’t take much to cut her leg off. And she has a two-month old baby, that would have been devastating.”
Larsen said Erica’s father, Tamar “Smart” Lichtenstein, initially considered returning the chaps, wondering if they were really necessary, but that because “Paulsen was so insistent” he did some research to see if they were really necessary and decided to keep the chaps, “insisting that Erica wear them.”
Larsen also said a family friend who is “experienced with chainsaws” helped teach her daughter some techniques. “We thought we had our bases covered.”
After the incident Larsen went to the shop to show Paulsen the shredded chaps and thank her.
“I’m just glad they didn’t get hurt,” Paulsen said, adding that, “I’ve been doing this a long time and I can tell when people aren’t really from the country and don’t realize what they need.”
Paulsen also said that it’s not about sales for her. “It’s all about every person going home with everything they really need to be safe and get the job done right.”
She also hears about longtime chainsaw users getting a wake-up call about safety gear.
“These accidents can happen anytime, whether you’re paying attention or you’re complacent,” Paulsen said. “Your level of experience really doesn’t matter. Another customer went his whole life without wearing chaps – but he was getting older and felt like he’d been pressing his luck, so he bought a pair. A few weeks later he came in, holding up his shredded chaps. He said he’d never run a chainsaw again without wearing chaps.”

Paulsen recalled another “sad story about a man who was cutting into a slash pile with his 13-year-old son when the saw kicked back and decapitated him. That poor boy had to walk out of the woods alone and deal with that for the rest of his life. Never cut into something you can’t see.”
She also cautions against having a “false sense of security just because a chainsaw is small, because they have a higher propensity for kicking back than larger ones.
“My own teenaged son didn’t want to wear his chaps when he’d help his dad make firewood. I’d yell at him and he’d be like, ‘Aw mom.’ You know how kids are if you don’t stay after them. “
Then Paulsen sent him to do a small job for an elderly customer and he grazed his leg with his chainsaw. “He came home and said, ‘I’m so glad I listened to you!’”
For Larsen’s family, the close call is also a lesson about listening to people who know more than you do about something.
“We took Liz’s advice and that changed the trajectory of what our lives would have been this holiday season if we hadn’t bought those chaps. Liz and her staff pay attention to the people coming in and you just don’t find that in the big city. It’s worth it to buy locally. She’s really selling a way of life and she does it right.”
“You’re saving lives,” Larsen told her.
Paulsen said the shop has the safety gear in stock. “People can come check it out. We only carry the high quality stuff – we avoid the knock off stuff because we don’t know if it’s any good.”

She also said that hearing and eye protection are important as well. “The companies that manufacture the saws make it really easy to buy a ‘helmet system’ that puts it all in one.”

She added that there’s a lot of “great videos” on the internet on falling techniques, safety and operation. Finally, Paulsen wants people to work in pairs – to never operate a chainsaw alone.