Considered one of Saskatchewan’s leading Vegetation Management companies, KVSLP supplies aerial tree trimming, right-of-way, brush clearing, danger tree removal, hand slashing, herbicide application, and consenting services to the utility industry. But our growth has been hampered by a shortage of Utility Tree Trimmers (UTT’s) in Saskatchewan. So Kitsaki Vegetation is training band members to fulfil that need.
Three Lac La Ronge Indian Band members with Kitsaki Vegetation have completed the academic portion of the UTT program at Olds College in Alberta.
Dexter Halkett, Jeff Ratt and Alex Mckenzie spent two weeks at the college earlier this spring and are now out putting in the hours trimming trees around power lines across the province.
Alex Mckenzie, who has been with Kitsaki for about three years now, said the first week was spent learning about working safely around power lines, trimming trees while in a bucket, climbing the trees, and about all the equipment needed to do the job. They also were taught how to recognize the different trees and pruning methods.
“Like how to cut a tree so it won’t die,” Mckenzie said. The second week was all about climbing trees. “We learned how to climb the tree, and how to rescue a guy if they get stuck,” he said.
To even get in to the course you have to put in 1,200 hours on the job. And now they need to complete 1,200 more hours on the job to become fully certified.
“This utility tree trimmer designation is like a journeyman’s ticket,” said Kitsaki Vegetation Service’s general manager Terry Helary. “It is a very specialized trade. It is one of the most dangerous trades in the world and safety is No. 1.”
It’s about a two-year process to become certified.
Dexter Halkett, who is from La Ronge, said they now know how to trim the trees properly while staying safe.
“(For example) you notch and then back cut, but then there are a couple of extra cuts you have to make up there to make sure the tree doesn’t peel and rip you down off the tree with the top you are taking off.”
For the past 10 years Halkett was cutting and clearing around power lines, but he wasn’t climbing up the poles. “It took me a while to get used to that,” he said. “I was kind of shaky getting used to heights.”
“I never wanted to climb trees,” he laughed. “But I like the climbing now.” Mckenzie said it also took him a little while to get used to climbing.
“The first time is pretty scary. You get a lot of shaking in your bones.”
So far he hasn’t had to climb too many trees because most of the time they are doing the trimming from a bucket. One of the things he likes about the job is the people. “I like working with the guys,” said Mckenzie, who is from Stanley Mission. “They are all good guys to work with.”
Jeff Ratt, who is from Sucker River, had a leg up on the others because he already had experience climbing power poles with Kitsaki. And he had taken a climbing course at Northlands College before taking this course.
“Switching over to this side was kind of the same deal,” Ratt said. “We are still working around the power lines.” They usually work in two- or three-man crews.
Ratt said on his three-man crew there is a couple on the ground hauling the brush to the chipper.
“Then we have the bucket guy who is trimming.” Ratt said he enjoys the work and the travel that takes him all over the province. “We are pretty much in a new community every week.”
Besides doing regular maintenance they are also called out to emergencies. “Especially storm damage and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
All three are comfortable working in remote locations. In fact, Mckenzie grew up on a trap line “My first memory was probably in a dog sled with my dad.” “It is really peaceful out there,” Mckenzie said, adding he was spending his week off in July back on the trap line. Ratt said they take safety very seriously. “If you are not sure about something, don’t be afraid to ask.”
Helary said that safety is a priority and one of the company’s core values. “Our guys are always working beside a power line and they always have to be aware of their surroundings and any other employees that are working with them as well.”
One other band member took the course last year and Helary said the goal is to put two members through the course each year.
“We are all about providing long-term employment opportunities for our Lac La Ronge band members.”