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Monday, June 17, 2013

STIHL Training Prepares Premier Conservation Organization

by J.D. Fernstrom, STIHL Northwest Technical Service Manager

In critical situations like natural disasters, preparation is essential. Knowledge of operations, response techniques and equipment maintenance is important from the first day on the disaster site until the last day of clean up and restoration efforts.

STIHL recently conducted a two-day advance maintenance and service training program with the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) for the tenth consecutive year. This training is especially important because this organization is typically one of the first-responder groups contacted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) when natural disasters like the Oklahoma tornadoes, Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina hit. In many cases, they will not have access to servicing dealers when a disaster occurs and need to ensure their STIHL equipment is working properly in critical situations. 

During training I was able to speak with Kevin Farrell, the WCC project coordinator, who briefed me on the work that the WCC does across the country. The organization is part of AmeriCorps and is a sub-agency of the Washington State Department of Ecology which started in 1983 as a measure to counteract unemployment in the forestry industry. Today, they have 64 crews (one crew supervisor, five AmeriCorps crew members) with more than 300 crew members, each working 40 hours per week. 

Unlike similar ecology and conservation groups in the United States, most of their crew supervisors are trained ecologists and are permanent employees. This gives the WCC an advantage as they are familiar with using and servicing STIHL products, and have a large working knowledge of the organization and forest service industry. Their crews work in a variety of settings doing watershed restoration, fence installation, wetland mitigation, trail construction, invasive species clearing, vegetation and other environmental enhancement projects.  

For many of the crew members, typically 18-25 years old, the WCC is a starting point for careers in forestry, ecology and natural resource conservation. While only the crew supervisors attend STIHL training, they are equipped with the knowledge to then cross-train their crews while on job sites. The STIHL training consists of a two-day maintenance program with two hands-on classroom sessions lasting three hours each at no cost to the WCC. I conduct training so that they have the knowledge of servicing equipment but we also focus heavily on preventative maintenance. In the classroom, I work with the supervisors on cause and effect of equipment issues to help diagnose problems and make sure they know basic equipment maintenance such as checking air filter and fuel filters and using equipment for proper applications.

While on the worksite, WCC crews frequently use the STIHL BT 121 earth auger, STIHL trimmers and edgers, and a variety of chain saws including the MS 362, MS 461 and the MS 660 for large projects. The WCC choose to be STIHL exclusive in equipment for many reasons, the one Kevin gave is “the reputation of a quality product”. He claims that the durable nature of STIHL equipment is important when applications and environments differ from wildfires, hurricane relief efforts and for aftermath of tornadoes. He also stated that, “when you’re out in the field you need to have products that will get the job done”. They also have a great relationship with their STIHL dealer and Independent We Stand member, J and I Power Equipment Inc. in Olympia, Wash., as they always have products and parts in stock and are professional and helpful. 

After fully understanding the premier conservation work done in Washington State and their efforts in assisting communities across the country during times of hardship and devastation, it more than justifies the time STIHL has spent to offer advanced maintenance and service training to help fulfill their mission.

To learn more about the Washington Conservation Corps visit http://www.ecy.wa.gov/wcc/.