Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the United States just south of Atlantic City, New Jersey at approximately 8 P.M. on October 29. It came ashore with sustained hurricane force winds between 80 and 90 miles per hour, but that doesn’t really describe the power of this storm. When it hit, Sandy stretched 1100 miles in diameter. Hurricane force winds greater than 75 miles per hour were felt 175 miles from the eye of the storm. Tropical storm force winds went out 500 miles, and those were sustained winds. Powerful gusts were felt throughout the Midwest, including a 72 MPH blast recorded in Michigan—almost 1000 miles from the eye.
Now imagine riding the storm out just 35 miles north of New York City.
“The storm didn’t really hit until evening around rush hour, and then all hell broke loose,” said Donald Benz of DCB Tree & Landscape in Pleasantville, New York. “We’ve had storms before; we just had a hurricane last year even. The recovery from that was a lot of climbing and aerial work for limbs but this was just major trees completely blown over. And not just down but uprooted, so all the stumps were in the air. We have a lot of mature trees where I’m at, and that first night after the storm you could still hear these trees cracking but it was dark so you couldn’t see anything. Looking around the next morning there wasn’t one place, one house, one road where there wasn’t devastation. We’ve had storms, but none were as bad as Hurricane Sandy.”
Donald serves about 200 high-end residential clients in the affluent suburbs north of New York City. He started the business in 1988 and maintains a staff of approximately a dozen, focusing primarily on landscaping along with light tree work. But when a storm like Sandy hits, anyone with a bucket truck and a chipper becomes an emergency worker.
“We had everything prepared and we were expecting the worst,” he said. “Everything was fueled up; the equipment was all maintained and ready to go.”
There was just one problem. The chipper in Donald’s fleet wasn’t a Bandit.
“We had a competitor’s 13-inch drum chipper, and the first day out on cleanup the drum went out,” explained Benz. “We got to work in the morning, and we were chipping away and the drum just went. With the situation there wasn’t really anything we could do; all the cell towers were down so we didn’t have cell service and we weren’t able to drive place-to-place with all the trees, wires and telephone poles down. We have some skid steers so we just kept working on big stuff, getting trees off cars, out of driveways, clearing roads, all without a chipper.”
Prior to Hurricane Sandy’s landfall, Bandit had implemented an emergency response plan to help tree care teams in situations similar to Donald’s. Area dealers were stocked with parts, and at Bandit’s Michigan headquarters a special response crew for parts and machine sales was established. The purpose of this team was to simply be on standby, listening to what customers and tree care professionals needed then responding as quickly as possible.
Later that first day Donald was able to work his way south to White Plains where he had a cell phone signal. Every rental chipper within a 150-mile radius was booked, so he began searching for used chippers to replace the broken machine. With Bandit’s emergency plan in action, it didn’t take long for Donald to find the help he needed.
“Bandit kept popping up in my searches, so I got onto the website and was looking at the used equipment,” said Benz. “There was a list of emergency Bandit contacts for the storm, and I sent an email to Jason Morey. It had to be about 9 P.M. when I sent it, and he called me back in like 15 minutes and sent me a bunch of pictures. We spoke back and forth about different machines, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to actually have someone get back with me so quick and at that time of night. We talked some more the next morning and I decided I was going to take a used 200XP, and the morning after that Ed Woods from Bandit was on the road to deliver it.”
Under normal circumstances, the story might end there. But Sandy’s broad path of destruction obviously created a situation far from normal.
“You couldn’t really drive from point A to point B,” explained Benz. “Many roads were impassable for at least the first week. The street lights were out; traffic lights were out so everything had temporary stop signs. For the first few days we just had a few basic roads we could travel, and gas stations with power were very few and far between. People started panicking because they couldn’t get fuel, so lines were long and just overwhelming for the few stations that were open. Ed ran into fuel issues on the way here; he left Michigan at 6 A.M. and was planning to be here at 8 that night but was delayed. He still drove straight through and pulled into my driveway with the chipper at midnight. I hadn’t even given a deposit on this machine before it showed up—nobody usually does anything without at least some kind of deposit. But Bandit trucked this chipper out, driving straight through with the fuel shortages and road closures to drop the chipper off at my house at midnight. I gave Ed a check and some coffee, and then he was back on his way. And six hours later I hooked the 200XP to my truck and took it to the next job, three days after the hurricane hit.”
The 200XP is Bandit’s mid-range 12-inch disc style chipper. It has a large 14” x 17” chipper throat opening with dual feed wheels to easily take limby material and larger limbs. Donald’s 200XP is running an 84-horsepower Perkins and he gave it a trial by fire, jumping right back into Sandy cleanup but the story still doesn’t end there. Donald ran into some minor hydraulic problems with the feed system a few hours into that first day but once again, Bandit was right there with a solution.
“I got on the phone with Jason, and he said there was a Bandit tech about 45 minutes away. I was able to get a new hydraulic hose while the tech was on his way, and he had everything working right in no time at all and I haven’t had a single problem since. This would be great service under normal circumstances, but to have all this take place just a couple days after Sandy in New York, Bandit really made the ball roll. I mean you just can’t say enough about this kind of service, hands down.”
In the three months since the storm hit there’s still widespread damage throughout the area, but the critical and high-priority cleanup work is under control, at least in Donald’s neck of the woods. He was among the more fortunate residents in the area—the storm only brought one tree down on his property and it landed in a non-critical area. His neighborhood went 11 days without power, the local schools were closed for over a week, and to keep his crews working through the first few days he drove a half-hour north every night into Connecticut for 60 gallons of fuel. After the initial glitch on the 200XP, Donald’s Bandit performed without a hitch and has since racked up hours in a hurry.
“The 200XP is working out real good; it’s everything I need and we’ve just kept running and going, stop after stop after stop,” he said. “I figure seven hours of chipping a day, and we’re just now starting to wrap up with residential clean up. It’s been a great machine, a real asset.”
Nobody likes to see the kind of destruction brought by natural disasters, and Donald’s story is among the more positive to stem from Hurricane Sandy. This storm affected 24 states, 4 Canadian providences, Bermuda and most of the Caribbean. It caused an estimated $65 billion in damage and killed 253 people in the United States, making it the deadliest hurricane to hit since Katrina and the deadliest East Coast hurricane in 57 years. Helping with the recovery and cleanup effort—whether it’s working long days to clear trees from homes or sending equipment to the front lines—is more than a job or a necessary action. It’s a chance to really make a difference when people need help.
“There was a lot of anxiety, a lot of people trying to figure out what to do,” said Benz. “When you have so much to accomplish and you only have a dozen guys, it’s like there’s only so much you can do and some of the work was just overwhelming. And this can be a tough business under normal circumstances, but after awhile you couldn’t even accept people calling because it’s like, how many calls a day can you take? How many jobs can you get to? I think people have the perspective sometimes that we’re all kind of invincible, so when it’s a week and the power still isn’t back on, you start to sense frustration. But I have a passion for this; I have some really god customers and clientele that keep me going, so as far as I’m concerned, this is just what I do.”
That passion is something shared by tree workers all over the globe, from national and regional companies down to one-man operations. It’s also shared by Bandit, as Donald discovered when he needed help at a critical time.
“With Bandit I was able to get a phone call at 9 P.M. on a machine, then someone drove straight through to get it to me without even a deposit on it, they deliver it to my house at midnight, and the next day someone came to my worksite within 45 minutes to fix a small problem. All within a couple days while the whole area was a mess from one of the most destructive storms we’ve ever seen. Without these kinds of things, without this kind of help, we would’ve been in a real pinch. Bandit just made it real easy for me to keep working. This kind of service is just unheard of, and I can’t say enough good things about it.”