If you are afraid of heights, perhaps tree trimming isn’t for you. Tree trimmers have one of the most difficult, technical jobs in the IBEW, which is why the IBEW is not afraid to go out on a limb when it comes to providing the best safety training in the industry.

In Detroit, Local 17 is making the climb to excellence with a first of its kind “Tree Trimming Boot Camp” designed by long-time tree trimmers themselves to make sure the future of the IBEW tree trimmers are prepared before even stepping into the apprenticeship classroom.


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Transcript: The Local Union 17 Tree Trimmers Boot Camp

Tree trimmers…they have one of the most difficult jobs in the world, which is why the IBEW is not afraid to go out on a limb when it comes to providing the best safety training in the industry.

Here in Detroit, Local 17 is paving the way to excellence with their first of its kind tree trimming boot camp. It was idea first thought of years ago by Journeyman Winston Likert.Winston Likert

Winston Likert: Safety Training Director, Local 17 “As a crew leader, apprentices come out on my truck first day with no knowledge which is normal and it’s our responsibility to start teaching them.”

But the problem in the past was that they had work to do, and working on deadline didn’t allow the proper time needed to train newbie’s on the job.

Winston Likert: Safety Training Director, Local 17 “It was so inconsistent for a new apprentice to go through all the steps. We would have at time guys at 4-5 months in with no times in the trees still.”

So Winston and Local 17 got busy and came up with a better way, it took years to pull it all together but finally the first boot camp launched in 2013.

Every year it gets bigger and better and is making huge headway in how efficiently we train future tree trimmers, preparing them before they ever set foot on a job site.

These guys enter a camp where climbing a tree has never been a part of their job description.

First things first, they have to learn what Winston thinks is the most challenging aspect of the job…how to tie the different knots. Then it comes time for a crash course in the physical demands.

Vincent KowalskiVincent Kowalski: Journeyman Tree Trimmer & Instructor, Local 17 “A lot of guys don’t have experience and have not seen this climbing before until they come out here and try it for themselves and they find muscles they never used before and find skills they never thought they would have.”

Winston Likert: Safety Training Director, Local 17 “The next most challenging thing is getting used to being suspended in their gear as they get higher and higher in the tree.  Some guys fall right into it and handle it well and other guys have to overcome that a little bit.”

Jay Peters: Woodsman, Local 17 “The higher you get up the smaller the tree gets so it starts to move more, that was a Jay Peterschallenge for me and limb walking.”

Colin Bothell: Boot Camp Trainee, Local 17 “For me it’s been the wind. I’m a bigger guy than the others. You get on a branch and the wind starts blowing it’s like oh man just give me minute. That has definitely been my biggest obstacle.”

This is where the term “boot camp” truly comes in. Some make it, some don’t.

Russel Bowlby: Journeyman Tree Trimmer & Instructor, Local 17 “The second day we were about 40 feet up and it was a very windy day and three of them quit because they were scared. These ones stuck it out.”

But for those that do pull through…

Aaron JacobsonAaron Jacobson: Journeyman Tree Trimmer & Instructor, Local 17 “Once you get over that hurdle and figure it out you are okay. Guys would tell me you will get it you will get it and I would think there’s no way this isn’t for me. Finally one day it clicked. And I thought this is awesome, this is what I want to do, I love it.”

Winston Likert: Safety Training Director, Local 17 “The last day of this camp when we release these guys it’s hard to describe the feelings that I have. I’m so proud and it’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Once you finish the boot camp, you enter into the Local 17 Apprenticeship. Which could be the beginning of a long and rewarding career.

Vincent Kowalski: Journeyman Tree Trimmer & Instructor, Local 17 “I picked this career about 30 years ago because I love to be outside, not indoors and like the physical challenge of the job and it’s fun. It seems like you might do tree after tree every day and it would be mundane just climbing trees but no tree is the same. Every tree is different.  It creates new challenges and keeps you thinking about what you need to do to stay safe in every job.”

A great career, and, as always, you will find a lasting brotherhood among these trees.

Aaron Jacobson: Journeyman Tree Trimmer & Instructor, Local 17 “To me it’s more family than anything. You are with the guys on your crew for 16-24 hours. We just did a couple 24’s. Basically you are more at work than at home. You get that bond, and you have to doing tree work because it’s so dangerous. You have to know each other inside and out so you know how you are going to work. You just work together and get through each challenge that you are going to have everyday.”

Thanks for watching IBEW Hour Power.


Erica McClaugherty

Erica McClaugherty joined the IBEW Hour Power team in 2015 and has been traveling around the United States and Canada ever since, bringing the stories of hard working IBEW brothers and sisters to life.

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