Juggling chain saws not allowed

Published by Steve on

Source of this article: The Condor Call, journal of the Los Padres chapter of the Sierra Club, October-November 2012

By James Paxton

“Be here at the office at 7:30 a.m. sharp. A minute late and you don’t work.”

Coming from the initially intimidating veteran Mike Vaughn, Head Supervisor of work projects on the CREW, I can tell you for damn sure I wasn’t late to work.

When I first heard about the CREW this summer through a friend of my father’s whose son worked there, I was definitely a little more than intrigued. I immediately envisioned chainsaws, heavy lifting, tough work and truck driving, and that was all it took to get my 18-year-old macho man juices flowing.
And to top it all off, I’d be working for a good cause.

The CREW is an acronym that stands for Concerned Resource and Environmental Workers. They are given grants to clean up ecosystems and remove invasive species, among other projects.
I couldn’t wait to start work. I called the office in Ojai and set up an interview; about a week after that I was getting up at 6 a.m. to make sure I wasn’t late for my first day on the job, Mike’s words still echoing in my head.

It was good to see that most of the other workers there were contemporaries of mine in age. You can start working for the CREW as a paid employee as early as age fourteen, but to be a supervisor you must be at least 21.

For my first job, I was stationed at a project down in Foster Park, Ventura, removing this horrible bamboo-related reed called Arundo Donax. Joaquin, my supervisor, barked a couple quick orders to “Grab a hard hat, gloves, eye-goggles, and two chainsaws. Make it quick, I’m gettin’ old here!”

My final job entailed camping out at Lake Piru for four days in absolutely blistering heat in order to map out the GPS locations of various invasive species to the area. No removal thank god! At first, I thought to myself, I can handle this, I mean after all it’s just hiking. Boy, did I have another think coming!

After the second full day of work, hiking in jeans and a long-sleeve shirt in 111 degrees led to the worst heat stroke I never thought I could have. After a hospital trip and against doctor’s orders, I somehow convinced Mike Vaughn to take me back to camp.

I came to have a real respect for the CREW as an organization, and I liked to think of myself as a soldier, part of a team working towards a greater goal, so I couldn’t leave camp while the team was still back there, it was my duty to return.

I recommend the CREW for people looking for a rewarding but physically challenging job; hell, even I’ll admit it, there’s some work you just wouldn’t do unless you got paid.

About CREW

The CREW is an environmentally oriented nonprofit youth leadership and employment organization, founded in 1991. It provides leadership and job training, paid employment and community service opportunities to local youth aged 14 to 26, while providing the resources needed to preserve, maintain, and improve public and private wild lands as well as to protect local communities against the threat of wildfire.

CREW currently operates in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties where it contracts with the U.S. Forest Service, City and County fire prevention agencies, and private sector organizations. Each year it trains and employs 100 male and female youths. Over 40 percent of participants are low income or at risk.
Wally McCall is the Chief Executive Officer (ask him about his Australian outlaw ancestors). Call the CREW at 649-8847 or log on to: www.TheCREW.org