NPS Moves Toward Consistency in Chainsaw Safety Training

If you operate a chainsaw for work, most likely you’ve been through some kind of training. Many large parks have developed their own internal training program. Some hire an outside vendor to deliver training. Sometimes a more experienced co-worker shows you how to operate it. This lack of consistency across the park service has led to the National Chainsaw Safety Program.

The Chainsaw Safety Work Group is comprised of members from Cultural Resource Management, Facilities Management, Fire and Aviation Management, Law Enforcement, Security and Emergency Services, Learning and Development, Natural Resource Management and Occupational Safety and Health.


In November 2010, the Safety Leadership Council and the Servicewide Maintenance Advisory Committee (SMAC) recommended creating a NPS Chainsaw Safety Working Group (CSWG) to develop universal training protocols and curriculum for improving the safety of chainsaw operations outside of wildland firefighting. Wildland Fire chainsaw operators (who are red-carded) will continue to be trained and qualified through the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) program.

All other chainsaw operators will be qualified through the NPS Chainsaw Safety Program for Non-Wildland Fire Operators (NCSP) program. The majority of these operators are in maintenance, but they may also be law enforcement rangers, natural resource specialists, or even volunteers. The NCSP provides Servicewide consistency in chainsaw operator knowledge, skills and attitude. It also ensures “competency evaluation”.

“What is competency evaluation?” you ask. It means you’ll be tested on the skills and knowledge you need to safely use a chainsaw. This is not just a multiple choice test; in addition to the exam, there is a field test in which you’ll operate the chainsaw and an assessor will evaluate you on the skills required at whichever qualification level you are seeking to achieve.

Program Components:

Flowchart illustrating steps to obtain qualifications
Chainsaw Qualification Decision Flowchart
  • Servicewide Policy (currently in draft awaiting approval) and mandatory eCourse
  • Qualification Process (click the link to view the full size jpg of the flowchart)
  • CSMO Training Program (optional) – if you pass all the knowledge and skills assessment from your previous training, you can move right to competency evaluation
  • Skills assessment for qualification

NCSP Chainsaw Qualification Levels:

Which level of skill do you need to perform your job or to perform the job you hope to have in the future?

A chainsaw operator performs a face cut on a tree.
NPS/Sarah Polzin. A Master Faller makes a back cut on a tree he’s going to cut down.
  1. Sawyer– These skills focus on the tree once it’s on the ground, brushing and slashing, or clearing small trees up to 4″ diameter.
  2. Working Faller (WF) – The operator can fall simple, straight trees, up to approximately 16″, as long as the tree isn’t wider than your chainsaw  bar.
  3. Journey Faller (JF) – The operator can fall complex trees up to 1-1/2 times the width of the chainsaw bar.
  4. Master Faller (MF) – The operator can fall any tree after careful consideration of the tree’s complexities and determining they can safely fall the tree.

To Get Training

The National Chainsaw Safety Program is developing a cadre of Instructor/Evaluators to make sure your operators are qualified and performing their skills. To find out how to bring Chainsaw Safety, Maintenance and Operation training to your park, complete this Google Form on Bison Connect.

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