On a foggy and cold Friday morning, a Council-branded truck pulls up on leaf-strewn Grey St.
Behind the truck is a green trailer-like device: it’s a diesel-powered mechanical chipper capable of pulverising thick tree branches in moments.
Out of the truck’s cab climb three members of the Council’s arborist crew – Dylan Heath, Daniel Rogers and apprentice Thomas May – clad in their mandatory high-vis shirts and vests, super-thick safety pants and steel-capped boots. In this job, safety is the number one priority.
The trio are part of the 12-strong team responsible for maintaining the city’s extensive “treescape”: look over Hamilton from any of its highest vantage points and you’ll see just how green and tree-laden it is.
They’re among our most visible staff, working across Hamilton on a range of jobs from using hand-saws for simple pruning of small trees in newer suburbs, to managing huge limbs on some of the 100-year-old specimens lining the streets of Claudelands and Hamilton East. Where the trees tower above residents’ homes, the crew can be on the job for a week, setting up their worksite every day before tasks which involve using ropes to climb trees and chainsaws and polesaws to prune branches.
Thomas says the crew’s working day constantly varies – they can spend all day at one site working on large trees, or get through several smaller pruning jobs over the course of eight hours.
“It’s one of the great aspects of our job – it’s always different,” adds Dylan. “We’re doing street trees, we’re doing work clearing branches from power lines…it’s everything, a vast array of work, never the same thing every day.”
The variety of work includes the crew responding to weather-related incidents – storms can bring down branches and trees, on to powerlines and even residents’ fences and homes. Night-time call-outs are part of the team’s work when winter is at its worst, although Dylan says working in wet and cold weather isn’t as bad as people may imagine – finding a park near a work site for the truck and chipper is one of the greatest challenges.
Dylan trained as arborist at Wintec is the veteran of the crew, with nine years’ service with the Council. He’s the assessor for Thomas, who is working toward his formal arboriculture qualification – Primary ITO Certificate in Arboriculture Level 4.
“It’s about two years and four months to be fully qualified,” Thomas says. “I’ve got a bunch of book work today, and Dylan assesses my work to make sure I’m doing it right.”
The arborist crew is currently recruiting for an arborist apprentice. The Council supports its arborist apprentices through their qualification – Dylan’s assessment of Thomas’ work and learning is an example of how this is done.
Dylan says random street-side conversations with interested members of the public are very common for the crew: “Every day we’ve got someone coming up and talking to us. Generally, if we’re doing something near their property, they’re pretty happy.”