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SAW: Valuable Tool To Survive Hurricanes And Disasters

Author: John Christopher Fine

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2011-12-20
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Photos by Myriam Moran © 2011

It’s been nearly three months since Hurricane Irene followed by a second violent storm tore through the eastern states. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared many zones disaster areas. Millions of homeowners were without electricity when trees and branches fell onto power lines. Trees damaged homes and vehicles as well. Clean up continues. There is nothing worse than feeling helpless without emergency equipment when disaster strikes.

When disaster strikes foresters respond with bucket trucks and heavy duty equipment. There can be so many priorities that getting to individual homeowners may take a long time. Here foresters attached to a company with a power company contract compare their  gasoline powered Stihl chain saw with author's (wearing red protective chaps) battery operated Stihl unit

Flashlights with good batteries, a working cell phone with back-up batteries, bottled water, foodstuffs that can be consumed with little preparation, especially if power is out, and tools to extricate from the disaster must be at hand. When a state governor declares a disaster then FEMA offers assistance. FEMA is not a substitute for insurance but there are many that cannot obtain home insurance in hurricane prone areas like Florida. In other coastal states homeowners insurance is so prohibitively expensive that a choice is made not to insure.

FEMA is empowered by law to pay for electrical generators and chain saws. Power in our dwelling was out for ten days. If we had a generator it would have saved food and refrigerated items. Trees fell over power and telephone lines. They had to be cut so that wires could be accessed by the power company.  Power to the mains that fed the area was cut off.

I have used a variety of chain saws over time. Gasoline powered chain saws are necessary but have their down side. Fumes pollute, flammable gasoline and oil mixtures must be stored. Gasoline deteriorates over time and must be kept fresh if to be used in chain saw engines. There are good electric chain saws but they work with power. If there is no power source they do not work. Electric cords are a nuisance when cutting has to occur far from the site of an electrical outlet.

With the advent of Lithium-Ion battery technology a new concept was created by Andreas Stihl, AG & Co. of Waiblingen, Germany. The company has U.S. headquarters in Virginia Beach, Virginia and is supported by local dealers everywhere. The new batteries are interchangeable and can power a wide variety of tools including brush cutters, hedge trimmers and their chain saw.

Stihl’s batteries come in 80 Wh and 160 Wh. The 80 produces 36 volts and 2.2 amp hours, it weighs 2.6 pounds. The AP 160 weighs 3.8 pounds and produces 36 volts with 4.6 amp hours. Chargers are available in Standard, which delivers 80% charge after being plugged in for 70 minutes, and Rapid that delivers 80% charge after 25 minutes. These times are for the AP 80 batteries.

The big question is: do batteries produce enough power for a chain saw to work efficiently and over a long period of time to get most emergency jobs done? With fairly constant use I found that the Stihl MSA 160 C battery operated chain saw lasts for 45 minutes on one fully charged Standard 80 battery. Enough time to get tree trimming jobs, the result of disasters, accidents or storms, done. Thereafter a spare battery can be used or the battery and charger can be taken to a place where there is normal 120 volt electric power for recharging.

The next question is: does the battery operated chain saw work on trees and branches that are likely to cause damage during storms and hurricanes? Will it serve as an all-purpose chain saw for homeowners, farmers and emergency workers that do not wish the burden, pollution and fire danger of storing and carrying gasoline?

Tree workers must clear limbs that endanger power and telephone lines. For larger trees the Stihl heavy-duty gasoline powered chain saw is used. To extricate crash victims whose vehicles enter a forested area, to quickly clear branches and smaller trees, the Stihl battery powered unit is versatile

The battery operated unit is not designed to fell or cut large hardwood trees. Neither are most average size gasoline powered chain saws. The Stihl MSA 160 C, the only battery operated chain saw that I have been able to discover, works well trimming branches and cutting medium sized trees. The cutting bar is 12 inches in length. Longer length chain saws are recommended for big jobs and cutting logs.

I found the battery powered chain saw easy to use. The unit without the battery weighs 7.1 pounds, plus 2.6 pounds with the Standard battery for a total weight under 10 pounds. Light enough so that most people can manage it.

There is an oil tank that must be kept filled with bar chain oil to lubricate the chain the same as with any chain saw. The filler cap can be removed and oil added or topped off. The capacity of the oil tank is 7.1 fluid ounces. This should be enough for two complete battery cycles but it is important to check bar chain oil with every charging cycle. Stihl offers vegetable oil based lubricant that is eco-friendly.

Safety is paramount when using any power equipment. Being properly dressed is the first step. Be sure to wear chaps sold for the purpose of protecting legs in the event a chain saw slips. Protective eye glasses and a helmet with wire mesh face plate is required for safe operation. Comfortable, well-fitting gloves that provide a good grip on the saw should be used. Sturdy, non-slip boots are also required.

The Stihl MSA 160 C has a protective chain brake that will switch the saw motor off if it kicks back. It is always important to stand to the side of the cut in the event of kick back or pull-in. Always read the instruction manual before operation.

It is easy to adjust tension on the chain with an adjusting wheel and wing nut. The chain should only be adjusted with the battery removed, and the chain brake pushed forward into the safe mode. Wear protective gloves. The chain should lie against the bar and must be able to be pulled across the guide bar by hand with proper tension.

Leaving heavy duty tree work to experienced foresters is important but often first responders and homeowners are required to clear trees and branches quickly making it necessary to have proper tools

I’ve found nothing like this unique invention from Stihl. While I was working on my trees, contractors for the power company pulled up in their bucket truck. They began work. They could see me working below. “I saw you cutting but didn’t hear a motor. There was no power cord,” one forester later said. He asked to try my chain saw.

“This is great for a homeowner.” A rousing endorsement from men that work trees every day for a living. One of the foresters went back to his truck for the gasoline powered Stihl he’d just used from the bucket. He compared them. It was conceded that for heavy-duty tree work larger pro-size gasoline powered chain saws are required. For all around use, to have something available in an emergency, for first responders or general purpose use, the battery operated chain saw is compact and handy.

To find out more visit Stihl’s website at

John Christopher Fine is a former New York Senior Assistant District Attorney, Assistant Attorney General in Charge Organized Crime Task Force, U.S. State Department Official and Special Counsel to the U.S. Senate.  Considered a foremost authority on organized crime and political corruption, Fine, a lawyer in private practice, continues to act as a government consultant and author of magazine articles on law enforcement and crime issues. 



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