Chainsaw Kings - Episode 6

Tuesday 23rd December at 8:00pm on five

This six-part series examines some of the most dangerous jobs in the world and profiles the men who risk their lives to put in an honest day’s work. The final instalment of the series follows a group of elite loggers who face death every day in the timber forests of British Columbia.

Vancouver Island is home to Standing Stem Logging Company, a group of fallers who work the island’s 12,000 square miles of dense forest. While logging can be a lucrative industry, it is also a perilous one –with an average of two injuries a week. For this reason, Standing Stem employs only the most experienced loggers in the region.

“The west coast faller is the cream of the crop,” says company owner Dwayne Hearn. Standing Stem has been fortunate in winning a lucrative £3million contract. However, the job is conditional on each faller logging a truckload of trees per day, which works out to be 100 cubic metres of timber per worker.

Although Dwayne knows his men are capable of pulling this large haul, heavy snow and rain has put them months behind schedule. To add to their workload, head faller Grant Forester is tied up training a new recruit. First-aider Warren Robinson is trying to make the step up to becoming a professional lumberjack. “He’s like a babe in the woods,” says Grant. Warren’s first fall comes in the form of a gigantic 100ft cedar that weighs in at 14 tons. He begins with a single chainsaw cut at the tree’s base. This incision, called the undercut, is the most crucial part of the process as it dictates the trajectory at which the tree falls. “Done the wrong way, it’s lethal,” says Grant. After making the cut, Warren directs the tilt of the tree with a jack. It is up to Grant to make the backcut, which creates a hinge, and the cedar falls steadily to the ground.

Although Warren’s first fall is a success, Grant raises the stakes on the pair’s next job –the newbie must make the backcut himself. It is the first time Warren has used such a big chainsaw and controlling the beast is no easy task. However, he manages to successfully execute the incision. Whether Warren will make the grade or not is down to the judgement of the company’s experts. “Some people don’t have the guts and the intestinal fortitude to be a faller,” remarks Dwayne.

One faller at the top of his game is Chris Ross. An expert climber, it is Chris’s job to lop the tops off
trees. With an expected output of between ten and 20 falls a day, Chris spends up to six hours at a time in the treetops. Armed with a chainsaw and heavy pack, Chris climbs his first tree of the day –a towering fir. He makes an undercut and a backcut, creating a hinge, and the top of the tree crashes to the ground. After this job is done, Chris moves on to a cedar, swinging across to it using a hook and rope.

“A bit of blood and pain is part of a day’s work,” he says. One of Vancouver Island’s most famous fallers is Bill Kriwokon. At 62 years of age, Bill is renowned for his accident-free record and high yield. “It’s not a dangerous job for me,” he says. “It’s a pleasant job.” While the speed at which Bill works causes some concern for safety officers, the logging veteran insists that he knows his limits. “If I get hurt, I’m the only one who’s gonna feel the pain,” he says. However, Bill has a constant reminder in his life of the dangers of the work. His younger brother, Norm, is paralysed from the waist down after a logging accident saw him crushed beneath a falling tree.

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