Chainsaw crews cuts storm damage down to size

They came. They sawed. They went on to help others.

Among the many out-of-staters who came to help Wilton clean up after Superstorm Sandy were 20 men from the U.S. Forest Service. They arrived Thursday, Nov. 1, and stayed through Saturday, Nov. 3.

The Bulletin caught up with four of them last week on Sturges Ridge Road: Kyle Bonham, Drew Butler, Jesse Morris, and Chris Loudenslager.

It was their first visit to Connecticut.

"It's nice," said Mr. Bonham.

"They got a taste of Orem's," Dave Smith, a contractor working with the town, said with a smile.

They also got a taste of what a hurricane can dish out, although helping out after disasters is what they do.

"It's not much different from a severe blow-down storm," Mr. Bonham said.

"Work is work," said Mr. Morris when asked what he thought of the storm damage. "It's still beautiful," he said of the town. "Everyone's been real nice. We're just glad we can help."

The men are sawyers — certified to use chain saws. And do they ever, cutting through a tree as if it were butter.

Last week they worked clearing downed trees along with Mr. Smith and Dave Barry, Robert Vibbert and Ben Monroe of Wilton DPW.

Answering the call

"The U.S. Forest Service is a federal agency that responds to wildland fires and hurricanes," said Suzanne Flory, a public affairs spokesperson for the service. "We have an incident management system in place so we can respond quickly."

Although they often respond to forest fires, they will do whatever is needed. When the team left Wilton it went to Long Beach, Long Island, where on Tuesday it was helping at a distribution center giving out food, clothing, diapers, and other necessities.

"We do a variety of work," Ms. Flory said.

Some of the men work at this full-time, like Mr. Butler, and others are part-time, like Mr. Bonham, who also works in residential construction at home. For Mr. Butler, this was his sixth assignment this year, for Mr. Bonham, his fifth. They have been busy, Ms. Flory said, because of the active wildfire season this summer.

Both Mr. Butler and Mr. Bonham studied natural resources in college and then focused on firefighting.

When they work a fire, Ms. Flory said, they do chain saw work, build barriers between fires and unburned areas, and do aerial work and hands-on firefighting. They work 14 days at a time.

They are part of an organized chain saw crew under the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that works interagency with the forest service.

At the top of the chain is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which coordinated their assignment here.

There have been hundreds of forest service interagency crews working all along the East Coast, Ms. Flory said. A crew from Michigan worked in Greenwich.

"We're really adaptable," Ms. Flory said. "We just want to be helpful. Put us to work to help meet critical needs. We don't want to be sitting. If it's chain saw work or handing out water to people, we'll do anything that's necessary."

The men came to the East Coast as a chain saw crew and waited in Massachusetts until they got the word to come to Wilton. The town put them up at the town shelter and treated them to a community dinner.

While they were working on Sturges Ridge Road, a resident dropped off bottled water for them. They had also received an offering of cupcakes.

"The town is treating us great," Mr. Butler said.

"Your town was so wonderful to work with," Ms. Flory said.

"Thank you to Wilton. When you are dealing with people in bad situations, they aren't always patient." Apparently, that was not the case here.