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Fulton Reservists Wield Chainsaws to Help Get the Power Back On After Superstorm Sandy

This video, provided by Kris Bateman, shows the dangers of cutting trees from streets when they’re still wrapped in power lines and may be bent and not broken. Charles Marks said that the members of the unit knew the tree would snap up and were prepared for it.

In a downstate community silenced by Superstorm Sandy, the sound one is most likely to hear this week is of chainsaws tearing through downed trees.  Two Fulton men are on the business ends of those saws.

Charles Marks and Kris Bateman are on leaves of absence from their employers. Their reserve unit, the New York Guard 3rd Engineering Battalion, was called up to help clear scores of downed trees from the streets of Armonk, a hamlet in the prosperous suburbs north of New York City, so power company crews can get to poles and turn the lights back on.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s. Un. Believable,” Marks says for emphasis. “It’s as if you took a box of wooden matches and you threw it on the floor. That’s what the trees are like.”

“There were some roadways that were totally devastated, covered in trees for hundreds of yards, trees on top of trees on top of trees,” said Bateman, adding: “Unbelievable.”

The New York Guard is to the state what the National Guard is to the federal government.  The New York Guard is an all-volunteer force that can be called on to join with a National Guard unit for special tasks, such as cleaning up massive storm damage.

Marks, Bateman and the rest of the 6 person unit might not have been called up, however, had it not been for the training in chainsaws that they got a month before Sandy.  Marks said that he never thought the training would be of much use, but it turns out that there are only two NY Guard units certified in the use of chainsaws.

So they observe special safety rules, put on helmets with built-in hearing protection and face guards, and pants with Kevlar inserts to protect against cuts, and cut their way down the streets of Armonk, one tree at a time.

There are some tricky trees, said Bateman.  They may have power lines wound around them, or they may be bent and not broken and want to snap upwards when they’re cut. “Very dangerous work,” he said.  And tiring.  “I’m sleeping really well,” said Marks.

The unit’s members are sleeping in one of Armonk’s fire stations.  It’s a building as big as a high school, Marks said.  Armonk is a well-to-do community about 20 minutes north of New York City. “I’ve never seen a bigger collection of Audis, Mercedes and BMWs in my life,” he said.

But both men said people in the community have been wonderful.  As they work their way down the streets, people will pop out of their homes to offer coffee or a place to use a bathroom.  And back at the fire station, food is arriving by the truckload for the volunteers.

“Never seen so many cookies, even at a bakery,” said Marks. “People are feeding us huge things of lasagna and Mexican food, baked chicken. I’m eating really well. They can’t do enough for us.”

They are also grateful for the support of their employers.  Marks, who is retired from the Phoenix Central School District but who teaches driver education at BOCES part-time and serves as Volney Town Constable, said people volunteered to fill in for him.  Bateman said his employer, Coca Cola of Syracuse, has been great about putting him on leave. “People at home understand we’re supporting people in need,” he said. Both men hope to be back home by the end of the week.

“I couldn’t be prouder to come down and help fellow New Yorkers in their time of distress because they can’t do it alone,” said Marks, who joined the New York Guard because of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“You know you’re helping somebody that needs help,” said Bateman. “Someday we will be needed. I was a Scout leader for years and this is the stuff we’ve always done. Do good for others.”