Anvil Builders Blends 'Men and Machines' for Maximum Results

Photo courtesy of SENNEBOGEN
Several features of the machines enabled crews to work around existing trees, power lines, mountainous terrain, structures and devasted landscape. The reach, with the K13 boom and stick set-up, 6 ft. 9 in. telescoping arm, and elevating cab increased effectiveness and safety.

Thu March 07, 2024

The right combination of skills, knowledge and equipment can transform the toughest job site into a success story. One of those stories is Anvil Builders and the company's ability to help areas get life back to normal after the devastation from wildfires.

The Situation

Cleanup after the Bay Branch wildfires south of San Francisco in 2020 presented a unique set of challenges: hazardous terrain, toxic substances from burned structures, and washed-out roads and mudslides in the middle of the rainy season. It was important to remove materials quickly and efficiently to prevent contamination of the environment and nearby communities.

Anvil Builders had a reputation and the qualifications to accomplish this project. Based on its experience handling similar scopes of work, its technical skills to perform the work and proven production capability, the company completed the project successfully, safely and on time.

"We've assembled a seasoned team of industry professionals with decades of experience," said Richard Leider, founding partner and CAO. "We actively train and mentor at all levels to ensure we have the right people to drive our projects forward and continue to be best in class."

The health and safety of those people is Anvil's top priority, which goes hand in hand with identifying the best method to get jobs done safely and efficiently.

California's Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) awarded Anvil Builders the $244-million contract for fire debris and hazard tree removal from more than 1,000 damaged properties. Anvil's team of 100 fire debris and 25 hazardous tree removal personnel began work in December 2020, building temporary replacements for burned-out bridges, improving roads to reach remote mountainous properties and felling trees that were a risk to critical infrastructure and people.

"It was spread out over five counties," said Eric Damron, general superintendent of Anvil. This increased the need to coordinate efforts to be safe and efficient.

"There wasn't much cell service, so you couldn't talk throughout the day. It was in the mountains and road conditions were hazardous. People were living in isolation."

Damron's role was overseeing the day-to-day operations, from logistics to personnel. Preplanning had taken weeks and months to determine the best way to move equipment to far away locations, he said. Selecting the right equipment and individuals to execute the plan safely and efficiently was critical.

Anvil used a variety of machines made specifically for felling, handling, and processing hazard trees, including SENNEBOGEN Tree Care handlers, Albach Diamant chippers, tracked chippers and chip vans.

The Solution

Anvil Builders used SENNEBOGEN 718M E and 728M E machines for the Bay Branch project.

"Our SENNEBOGEN Tree Care handlers were able to minimize exposure to safety risks. We were able to reduce the crew size because they were multi-purpose," said Damron. "The 50- to 70-foot reach for material meant we could dismantle a tree safely. It was huge. On a good day, we were able to remove 500 to 700 trees."

Hayden Vreeburg, equipment manager, agreed.

"It has a lot of reach. You can take down a lot of trees in a day. It is high, high production. This helps with safety because we have less people on the ground."

Several features of the machines enabled crews to work around existing trees, power lines, mountainous terrain, structures and devasted landscape. The reach, with the K13 boom and stick set-up, 6 ft. 9 in. telescoping arm, and elevating cab increased effectiveness and safety. Operators could work at a safe distance with clear visibility, said Damron.

"The most important feature was the reach, followed by the ability to elevate the cab so the operator can clearly see the work site."

The speed of the machines and the responsiveness of the hydraulics allowed crews to cut down trees in a timely fashion.

The SENNEBOGEN urban Tree Care handler can grab, cut, move and stack tree sections more efficiently than conventional techniques. They are able to fully immobilize and cut trees up to 28 in. in diameter. With bullet-proof glass in front of them, operators have good sightlines from inside the cabs, improving productivity and safety.

Dan Hickman, fire debris project manager of Anvil, said having no one on the ground in the fall zone was another asset.

"The productivity of the SENNEBOGEN Tree Care handlers was very helpful."

This applied to properties with both houses and trees or places where trees posed a hazard to the debris-removal team.

"It is dangerous work. Stuff breaks free. A burned house is not predictable. The SENNEBOGEN machines made the operations safer," said Hickman.

"Being on rubber tires, as opposed to tracks, they sped up operations along roadways and without damaging any of the asphalt."

Damron said the agility of the 718M E and 728M E machines allowed them to "run up and down roads." This is handy when doing highway work, said Vreeburg.

"One of the advantages is being able to move around on a road. You can drive on the pavement. The transportability of the 718M E and 728M E is also huge. No special permits are required and with a lowboy, it is easy on and off."

The machines also are low-weight and compact, making them easier to move into locations. The elevated cab on the 728M E provides a viewing height up to 20 ft. 5 in. and can be tilted up to 30 degrees, guaranteeing good sightlines. A roof and windshield guarding over the bullet-proof glass maximizes the protection.

The Twist

Originally, the project was scheduled for completion in May 2021. However, CalOES issued Anvil Builders a $70-million change order to expand operations to include several state parks and regional summer camps, including Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

"One of the biggest challenges was that the project became five times what we were anticipating," said Damron.

Hickman agreed: "The biggest challenge was coordinating so many different parcels rather than one contained site."

Damron said the state parks were a challenge on their own, "a job within a job." They included lodges, maintenance buildings, homes and trees. Some buildings had historical significance.

"We had to be selective in what material we removed."

Across five counties, hundreds of properties needed to be cleared. Each area presented unique conditions: different tree species, terrain and logistical challenges.

Working in remote areas also presented challenges in maintenance and safety.

"When you are a few hours away from a mechanic, all our operators are trained on how these machines work and how to work on them," said Vreeburg.

SENNEBOGEN's UPtime Kits provide parts and equipment for operators to repair on-site.

"They are very reliable, but sometimes you have damage from a limb falling. The SENNEBOGEN parts and service departments are really great," said Vreeburg.

This was particularly true when specialty parts were required.

"Having SENNEBOGEN in the U.S. means if you need something, it's only a day or two away. This is a big asset that helped to keep our projects on time."

The Results

Over 10 months, crews from Anvil Builders safely took down more than 25,000 hazard trees, many of them 100 ft. redwoods and Douglas firs. Nearly 500,000 tons of fire debris was trucked to end-use facilities, often over narrow, winding backroads. More than 100,000 labor hours were logged with zero recordable injuries.

"SENNEBOGEN helped us meet the challenges," said Hickman. "It streamlined how well the team performed."

"The SENNEBOGEN machines are able to adapt to a lot of areas that other machines can't," said Damron. "I could send a SENNEBOGEN into any area, sight unseen, knowing it could take that tree down. The reach, mobility and the independent outriggers can level out any terrain. A ton of features make it easy to operate with minimal training. It is very operator-friendly."

Having that confidence to meet any condition helps Damron do his job successfully. The results of a successful project are what motivates him.

"Helping people with all the cleaning up so they can have a fresh start" is his reward.

"When you see their faces and the reactions when they see what you've done, so they can start rebuilding." That's what matters. "At the end of a project, with nobody hurt and everything done, and you've met the timeframe from the state." That's job well done. "We can go after other tree projects because we are so efficient with the SENNEBOGENs. It's changed the industry."

Vreeburg said, "They were a game-changer for us. They definitely cut a lot of wood. That's the goal."

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