Certified chainsaw operators help clean up after storms


By Kara Witherow, Editor

The loud whir of a chainsaw is a sound that’s often heard after a tornado or other storm devastates a neighborhood, town or city.

Rick Dorer knows the sound well.

As the only certified chainsaw instructor and one of only about 30 certified chainsaw operators in the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church, Dorer is often called to serve in the wake of disaster.

He and other South Georgia Early Response Team (ERT) volunteers were very active in the aftermath of last year’s historic storms that spawned deadly and destructive tornadoes across Georgia, Alabama and the southeast.

Dorer, a member of Pierce Chapel United Methodist Church in Midland, has been around chainsaws for the better part of 30 years. He even spent several years working as a tree surgeon, so to say that he knows his way around a chainsaw would be a bit of an understatement.

But his eyes were opened when he attended a one day, Southern Baptist led certification course in Montgomery, Ala. last year.

“I learned things during that course that I didn’t think were possible,” Dorer said. “It really opened my eyes to techniques that are safer and better for people who don’t necessarily have the equipment, the training or the capability to climb trees. The big emphasis is on safety.”

Safety is, of course, always paramount when working on a relief site, but especially when volunteers, most of whom are amateurs, are using chainsaws and other dangerous power tools.

“A lot of people can crank a chainsaw and operate it, but not so many can operate it by a strict set of safety guidelines,” he said. “And anyone can operate a chainsaw cutting firewood in a cleared area, but going out in an area that a tornado has just torn to pieces where things are all wrapped around each other is a very different thing.”

While The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) often requests certified chainsaw operators in the storm-damaged areas it serves, The United Methodist Church does not currently offer such training. Knowing the need and dearth of certified operators, Dorer took it upon himself to find the training he needed to become certified.

Now that he’s a certified instructor himself, Dorer offers chainsaw training and certification classes to South Georgia United Methodists. Classes are scheduled immediately following ERT training sessions, and participants must have completed ERT training prior to taking the chainsaw training class. The next ERT and chainsaw training sessions are scheduled for Sept. 28-29 at Pierce Chapel United Methodist Church in Midland.

“This is just a new way to be in ministry during a disaster,” said Jamie Gibson, the South Georgia Conference’s Disaster Response Committee chairperson. “Those in need and in charge have the assurance that these people are trained and qualified.”

Just last November, a team from Pierce Chapel UMC and Wynnton United Methodist Church traveled to Hamilton, in the Columbus District, to help clean up after a tornado struck the town. They spent most of the day clearing debris and putting a tarp on Julia Thomas’ home.

“Lunch filled my stomach but your Christian presence filled my soul,” she told the volunteers as they took a break to eat at Hamilton United Methodist Church.

“We get tornadoes and hurricanes here with pretty alarming frequency,” Dorer said, “and when they hit there are trees on houses, on cars, and scattered all around the property that need to be cleaned up.”

Dorer said that UMCOR and ERT teams focus their efforts where the needs are greatest, and in some cases, months after the storm have passed, trees still cover a house or a yard.

“Tornados are equal opportunity disasters,” he said. “We’ve gone on properties where it’s six and eight months after the disaster and there are still trees down and roofs that need to be repaired. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much money you have, there’s just not enough people around to do all of the work that needs to be done.”

To date, Dorer has held two chainsaw training sessions in South Georgia, and there are about 30 certified chainsaw operators in the Conference. The goal, he says, is to have more people trained throughout the conference so that no matter where a disaster strikes, South Georgia United Methodists can respond.

“There has been a need and there will continue to be a need,” he said. “Not everybody has the same skill set or capabilities, but we can all serve in some area. What we need are volunteers who can be trained and ready to go when the call comes.”

Interested in becoming a certified chainsaw operator?

  • You must have attended an ERT training session.
  • You must be at least 18 years old.
  • You must be physically capable of carrying a chainsaw all day or most of the day. Chainsaws weigh 10-15 pounds, which is not a tremendous amount of weight until you’ve been wrestling with it all day.
  • You must be willing and able to go and serve on missions.
  • You must be able to access disaster areas (areas that will be filled with downed trees, inaccessible roads, etc.).
  • For more information and to register, contact Rick Dorer at 706-596-1903.


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