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Forester’s role includes passion for safety, reliability of system

September 9, 2019 | Jason Kuiper | OPPD at work, OPPD employees
Utility forester, tree-trimming crew evaluates a job site

For OPPD’s newest utility forester, Aaron Holloway, it’s all about planning and preparation.

That approach led him to OPPD after working eight years for Asplundh, one of two companies OPPD contracts with to trim trees.

Safety has always played a big role in Holloway’s work. At Asplundh, he found he loved to climb trees and worked hard to educate himself and learn as much as he could, as quickly as possible. Eventually, where he worked his way up to overseeing the company’s largest crew at the time – 48 people.

Finding a place at OPPD

After working for several years at Asplundh, he became a project manager, working directly with OPPD’s utility foresters. He liked the people he worked with and knew several would retire soon. He found out what certifications he would need to work at OPPD and spent a lot of time polishing his interviewing skills.

After many hours preparing, he “nailed” the interview once a job at OPPD came available.

Holloway is a self-proclaimed tree lover with a wide knowledge base about all aspects of trees.

utility forester, example of a tree growing into power lines
A volunteer tree grows around a power line in eastern Omaha. Tree interference can impact reliability of electric service.

Holloway and the utility’s other foresters spend a lot of time inspecting trees throughout OPPD’s service territory. The health of local trees can impact power reliability, so it’s important to keep trees and vegetation under a maintenance schedule, he said.

Trees are a leading cause of power outages, so Holloway is always on the lookout for problems. He said there are visual signs that can indicate if a tree is healthy or not.

“You will see brown spots among green leaves,” Holloway said. “Large spots of dead wood, peeling bark, holes in the tree, those are all signs of a diseased or dying tree.”

With the arrival of the emerald ash borer (EAB) in Nebraska, what was already a dangerous job has become exponentially more dangerous. The tiny beetle causes devastating damage to ash trees. They lay eggs on the bark of the trees, and when the eggs hatch, the larvae bore into the bark and feed on the tree tissue.

The trees may look healthy on the outside, Holloway said, but they may be dead and hollowed out inside. That makes them dangerous to people, power lines, homes and workers who have to climb trees.

A year later, he loves his job still looks out for some of the people he used to supervise.

Dangerous work

“My biggest concern has always been safety,” he said. “I’m a big believer in teaching others how to work safely. At Asplundh the guys saw that I really cared about them and wanted them to go home safely to their families. We had that foundation of mutual respect that I still strive for.”

People skills are a big part of Holloway’s job. Sometimes tree-trimming removal can be unpopular with homeowners. People love their trees; Holloway understands that.

A utility forester inspects a job site in Omaha
Holloway inspects a tree-trimming job site.

“My job is to make sure the public is safe while powering their homes,” Holloway said. “I want our customers to know that I love trees and horticulture and we only trim trees when it’s necessary. We talk to them about the work we will do so they understand why it is necessary.”

Holloway is a solutions-driven person and wants the customer’s experience with OPPD to be a good one.

“The most rewarding thing for me when dealing with a customer is when we aren’t seeing eye-to-eye, and by the end of the transaction we are on the same page and both parties are satisfied.”

OPPD trims trees to promote tree health and to grow back with fewer limbs that could interfere with power lines. Customers may not always like how the tree looks after it is trimmed. But the trims keep the tree from weakening becoming more susceptible to disease.

A typical day

Holloway’s days start out at OPPD’s Papillion Service Center where he looks over the work plans for the week. OPPD gives their contractors goals for the year and Holloway helps monitor those. He spends a lot of time driving to check on jobs in-progress and recently completed jobs.

utility forester Aaron Holloway
Aaron Holloway is one of OPPD’s newest utility foresters, who focus on safety of the system and reliability.

He makes sure the trims are done to OPPD’s specifications, that there is adequate clearance from power lines and that proper cuts have been made. Holloway also drives around the service territory to check growth on different circuits to determine if any adjustments need to be made on the maintenance schedule.

Sometimes, if there is a lot of growth in an area and there have been a number of outages, Holloway said they will do “hot spot” trimming and get out there as quickly as possible.

The preventative maintenance OPPD does each year reduces potential damage from severe weather. OPPD uses a variety of trims depending on the tree and its proximity to power lines.

Away from work, Holloway enjoys spending time with his family and working out. And he still gets out and climbs trees when he can. It’s a skill and a craft that Holloway is grateful to have discovered.

“I have learned something from everyone I’ve worked with, no matter their level of expertise,” he said. “I love knowing that the work I do makes a difference in people’s lives.”

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About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He is a former staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald, where he covered a wide range of topics but spent the majority of his career covering crime. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and has also appeared in several true crime documentary shows. In his free time he enjoys cooking, spending time with his wife and three children, and reading crime novels.

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