Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Utility using aerial tactic to prune trees

by JULIE E. MARTIN on November 17, 2013 2:00 AM

Over the next couple of weeks, some residents may look up and wonder if what they see hovering above certain sections of the Indiana area is a bird or a plane.

But, to their surprise, it may very well be a specially designed helicopter sent out by First Energy Service Company to trim trees and vegetation along its right of ways.


Efforts started this week and will continue at various times over the coming weeks, depending on weather conditions, according to those at the Akron, Ohio-based energy parent company of Penelec.

The trimming will stop the week of Thanksgiving.

Some residents near the Glory Substation in Clymer received notice about the trimming earlier this month. The project, First Energy representatives said, has also covered parts of Punxsutawney and is moving toward parts of Clarion County.

The reason behind the pruning? Overgrowth of branches and vegetation can interfere with power service. In fact, according to First Energy spokesman Scott Surgeoner, trees growing into right of way areas are a major cause of electrical outages.

In case you’re wondering if you’ve spotted one, the helicopters used by the power company have a series of about a dozen, 24-inch rotary saw blades attached side-by-side and vertically suspended by a long cable.

The helicopter is designed to cut branches and vegetation from hard-to-access right of ways, which are usually 100 to 200 feet wide.

The company started using helicopters several years ago, for the sake of effectiveness and worker safety, according to Surgeoner.

“This is much quicker and more efficient,” he said. “Using helicopters, these groups are able to trim several miles in a day.”

While the trimming work ends before rifle season starts, hunters who are preparing tree stands now may want to be aware.

Responding to a question about whether safety should be a concern in light of helicopter activity, Surgeoner said hunters must be aware of their surroundings, as they should every time they hunt.

He added that the ground crews accompanying the helicopter look ahead for any problems or issues before the helicopter takes off.

Flying slowly along the right of way, the tree-trimming chopper cleanly cuts branches and foliage with its aerial saw, according to information from First Energy.

Without tearing, limbs about 10 inches in length are cut from overgrown trees. With a little help of air blasts from the helicopters’ rotors, they fall straight down onto the right of way.

This fall marks the helicopter’s debut in Indiana County, but they’ve been used in certain parts of the state for about five years, Surgeoner said.

“We’re increasing its use throughout Pennsylvania right now,” he said, adding that the company plans to use the helicopters through 2014 and beyond.

Aside from its efficiency, aerial trimming offers a safer option for power company workers.

According to Surgeoner, those who man the operations (there’s a group of workers who follow the chopper’s path) are safer than if they were climbing a tree or riding in a bucket that extends from a truck.

First Energy will resume aerial trimming efforts in the spring, but if you’re hoping for another chance to see the tree-trimming chopper, you’ll have to head toward the Johnstown or Altoona areas, which are next on the energy provider’s to-do list.

The copter will most likely not return to the Indiana area for about five years when right of ways in and around the county will be ready for another trim, Surgeoner said.

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