Sylvia Heinz, Team Rubicon’s deputy administrator for Alaska, hones her chainsaw technique on a downed tree as part of a training event for the disaster-relief organization on Douglas Island on May 25, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Sylvia Heinz, Team Rubicon’s deputy administrator for Alaska, hones her chainsaw technique on a downed tree as part of a training event for the disaster-relief organization on Douglas Island on May 25, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Emergency response volunteer group sharpens skills

Chainsawing safely is no amateur job.

Members of a veteran-founded disaster-relief nonprofit spent the week in Juneau sharpening their core skills — and putting chainsaws to trees.

Members of Team Rubicon, known as Greyshirts, a 12-year-old organization founded after the 2010 Haiti earthquakes by a pair of Marines, practiced core skills such as chainsawing and site surveying as the group seeks to increase its Southeast Alaska presence.

“Of the Greyshirts who up here already, there was a lot of enthusiasm about trainings that are held locally,” said Don Beeson, Team Rubicon’s operations associate for the Pacific Northwest. “Be giving this training, the organization knows ‘I have x number of people with this core capabilities in the zone,’ so we have to fly less people in.”

[Three medevaced after plane crash near Yakutat]

There are about 50 Greyshirts in the Southeast, Beeson estimated. With more training opportunities and increased grasp of the organization, Beeson said he hoped to increase that number, bringing the organization to a point where it was self-sustaining in the Southeast.

Sylvia Heinz was living in Haines in December 2020 at the time of the fatal landslides. Team Rubicon was one of the organizations that was able to help out with relief efforts, and Heinz, who also serves as the Long Term Recovery Group Coordinator for Haines, joined up, saying it was a good fit for her. Heinz deployed to Louisiana last year with the organization supporting relief efforts for Hurricane Ida.

Members of Team Rubicon practice their chainsaw technique, one of the core skillsets for the volunteers, on Douglas Island on May 25, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Members of Team Rubicon practice their chainsaw technique, one of the core skillsets for the volunteers, on Douglas Island on May 25, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

“It was really phenomenal, the work they did,” Heinz said in an interview. “I recognized right off the Team Rubicon’s values aligned with my own, and Southeast Alaska’s.”

The organization is named after the organization’s first deployment to Haiti, which involved a river crossing at the Artibonite River, the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The volunteers’ uniform gray shirts give them their nickname. The ranks of the organization have grown dramatically over the past decade, Beeson said, with more than 160,000 names on the rolls at present.

“It’s the nature of disaster response (organizations) that the times with the biggest growth are the times of greatest disaster,” Beeson said. “It used to be exclusively military volunteers. Over the past few years we’ve seen it shift. Now there’s more civilians than veterans.”

The Haines landslides drove home the unique vulnerability of Southeast Alaska’s communities, Heinz said. The organization has kit trailers staged in Fairbanks and Anchorage, Heinz said, with an eye on setting up a third gear staging point in Juneau, but during the pandemic, neither mainland trailer was able to get to Haines due to border restrictions.

“Team Rubicon is looking to invest and build up local capability here,” Heinz said. “Disasters are all unique. Every disaster has its own set of unmet needs. Team Rubicon is an agile organization and that agility is essential to Southeast Alaska.”

Brian Rougeux, a volunteer with Team Rubicon, practices his chainsaw technique on a downed tree as part of a training event for the disaster-relief organization on Douglas Island on May 25, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Brian Rougeux, a volunteer with Team Rubicon, practices his chainsaw technique on a downed tree as part of a training event for the disaster-relief organization on Douglas Island on May 25, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

The organization is a good one to be a part of, said Steve White, a Navy veteran who volunteered five years ago.

“What I like about it is there’s no me to it. It’s us. It’s a team,” White said. “People don’t inquire anything personal besides ‘do you want to work and work hard.’”

White, who joined in search of something meaningful to do after retiring, said he liked the mission of active work outdoors.

“I’d been wanting to do some meaningful volunteer work but none of them seemed to appear to be what I wanted to do,” White said. “Helping people who are in real distress is meaningful to me.”

Not everyone is going to be holding a chainsaw, White said. Everyone plays a role, from admin to operations, logistics, communications or a bevy of other roles that need to be filled so that the team can function smoothly and effectively. White said his sister joined, despite being older and nonmilitary in background, and was a natural fit for personnel and site survey roles.

“It’s the first natural step to getting people back out into the field to respond,” White said of site surveying. “It’s a really critical part of this whole operation.”

Beeson said that with this first exercise in Juneau concluded, the organization will evaluate how it went. The goal is to increase the number of exercises per year, as Team Rubicon works with local stakeholders to figure out what kind of training and assets locals will need, and which they don’t. Resilient communities and people are better able to help themselves and others in the case of an emergency, Beeson said.

More information about the organization or volunteering is available at the teamrubiconusa.org.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of June 26

Here’s what to expect this week.

The Alaska Department of Health And Social Services building in Juneau has no visible signs indicating the department is splitting into two agencies as of Friday. Top officials at the department said many of the changes, both physical and in services, are likely weeks and in some cases months away. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Little sign of big change for DHSS

No commissioner at new department, other Dept. of Health and Social Services changes may take months

Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, 320 W. Willoughby Ave., will be open as a cooling center through Wednesday for elders who need a cool place during the ongoing heatwave. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Tlingit and Haida opens cooling center for elders

Keep your cool during the heatwave.

An Alaska Seaplanes Cessna 208A, seen here on the tarmac, suffered damage after failing to achieve takeoff near Elfin Cove on Sunday, June 26, 2022. (Courtesy photo / Alaska Seaplanes)
No one hurt after plane’s takeoff goes awry

The aircraft failed to achieve take off and hit the beach while leaving Elfin Cove.

A 13-year-old girl was medevaced Saturday after being struck by a vehicle near the crosswalk across Egan Drive by Gold Creek. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Teen in serious condition after SUV strikes bike

Juneau Police Department is investigating.

The Norwegian Sun sat moored in Juneau on Monday after striking striking ice Saturday afternoon near Yakutat Bay on its way to Skagway. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Update: Cruise ship that struck iceberg departs Juneau

It’s heading to Seattle for repairs.

Drag queen Gigi Monroe reads a book about a wig during Drag Storytime at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
One for the books: Drag Storytime returns

Balloons, books, bustin’ moves.

FILE - Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. Sweeney's campaign manager said, Wednesday, June 22, 2022, that the campaign did not plan to sue over a finding released by Alaska elections officials stating that she cannot advance to the special election for U.S. House following the withdrawal of another candidate. (AP Photo / Mark Thiessen, File)
Alaska Supreme Court ruling keeps Sweeney off House ballot

In a brief written order, the high court said it affirmed the decision of a Superior Court judge.

President Joe Biden signs into law S. 2938, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act gun safety bill, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Saturday, June 25, 2022. First lady Jill Biden looks on at right. (AP Photo / Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President signs landmark gun measure, says ‘lives will be saved’

The House gave final approval Friday, following Senate passage Thursday.

Most Read