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Tree trimmer's death highlights hazards of job | News

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Tree trimmer's death highlights hazards of job
A man died Dec. 22 while trimming this palm tree in North Las Vegas, Nev.

NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. — A valley man is dead after firefighters say he got trapped inside mounds of dead palm leaves. The accident happened Monday evening when neighbors say he was trying to trim the tree, got stuck and suffocated.

While the story might sound a little outlandish, tree trimmers say it is more common than you might imagine. All it takes is four years for an overgrown palm to become deadly.

Licensed tree trimmer Chris Donnelly says he clears his mind before going up in a tree. 

"I don't want to think about my job," he said. "I don't want to think about the hazards involved." 

But the reality is, tree trimming is dangerous if not done right. "There's been a lot of guys that have gone down. I've known a few of them. It's just sad."

Mr. Tree owner Joe Noriega has decades of experience with tree trimming. He says the old palms, like where the accident happened outside a North Las Vegas home, can be deadly.

"On one of these large trees where you have years of old accumulation, you can have 500 to 1,000 pounds of dry, dead material," Noriega said. 

Inexperienced climbers can easily find themselves trapped in dead leaves and unable to escape, he said.

"You have the suffocating weight pushing down on your chest as you're bent backwards. You can't get any other gear," Noriega says, adding you get stuck, unable to move, until you run out of air.

That's also what he believed happened Monday evening.

Neighbor Minnie Teck told 8 News NOW the man cutting this palm was not an experienced tree trimmer, instead just someone from the neighborhood doing odd jobs.

"It (palm tree) was all dried up and old. It had been there so long and never been attended to," Teck said. 

OSHA recently issued a hazard bulletin saying tree trimmers need to protect themselves. 

For workers like Donnelly, he says more conversations need to happen about safety. "The tree industry right now is really starting to come together, saying 'hey, there's too many guys doing this right now. Why don't we make this a little safer?'"

The coroner has not yet released a name or an official cause of death in Monday evening's incident.