The two Joseph brothers are in the business of saving lives — not just people, but trees as well. Each man is a certified arborist, paramedic and firefighter in Columbus, Ohio.
“Trees in this area should live to be about 250 years or so,” says 35-year-old Michael. “In urban areas, only one in four trees are being saved; the majority are being destroyed.”
“Our job is not cutting down trees; our job is to restore them to health,” says 32-year-old David.
These two men have plenty of opportunity to see destruction when they’re working their respective shifts with the Columbus Division of Fire. With a metro area of over a million people, the brothers work 24 hours on and then 48 hours off, which allows at least one of them to be on duty at their place of business, Joseph Tree Service LLC, saving trees and improving the environment for central Ohioans. The company has a staff of five, all firefighters, and their equipment includes a diesel truck outfitted with a boom bucket, wood chipper, box truck, 300-gallon sprayer and grinder. They recently moved into their own 12,000-square-foot warehouse in downtown Columbus. “We’ve come a long way in a short time,” says Michael.
The brothers started their business nine years ago. “I was working for the Springfield, Ohio, fire department when David became a Columbus firefighter,” says Michael. “We always wanted to work together and start a tree service company in a large urban setting. After David started with the Columbus fire department, we decided to start the business there. After a few years, I joined my brother on the Columbus fire department. Now, we even work at the same station.”
“Like most tree service companies, we started small — just a chipper and an old truck,” says David. “But, we’d been in business before. Michael and I had a lawn care business in our hometown, Pittsburgh, Pa., when we were in high school. We did a little tree trimming and got interested in the effects of trees on a healthy urban environment. When Michael left home to go to college at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, I kept the business running until it was my turn to go away to college. We sold the company to Dale Garlick, Northern Lawns, Inc., and I worked every summer for them when I came home from Penn State.”
“I didn’t plan on becoming a firefighter,” says David, “but when Michael became a fireman in Springfield, I was just graduating from college. He called me and told me about the opening in Columbus and said that maybe we could both get on with the department and perhaps start the tree service business. I had majored in administrative justice and was thinking about law school or maybe working in law enforcement with the federal government, but things have worked out well. I love what we do for ourselves and for our community.”
“It took us seven years before we were both working in Columbus because the city had budget problems for training classes at the academy. But we began our tree service business almost immediately after Dave started with the Columbus department,” says Michael.
Service has been the key, according to David. “We don’t advertise and we don’t work for insurance companies or work with contractors. Almost all of our work is residential, and our business comes to us by word-of-mouth. We’re not happy until we’re sure that the customer is happy. And to that end, we will do everything we can for total customer satisfaction.”
In addition to being ISA-certified arborists, the brothers have earned their pesticide and fertilizer applicator licenses from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. “Often, people will call us to get a price on removing a tree, but most trees can be saved. It’s our job to show them how. With the right care – tree-growth regulation, pruning, feeding, cabling and sometimes by applying insecticides or pesticides — we can prevent the loss of tree life. We both believe in tree trunk injection methods for treating many diseases and many pest problems,” says Michael. “We especially recommend the Arborjet tree injection technology; their products are safe to work with, safe for the environment and safe for the tree. It’s also effective against the emerald ash borer, and that’s a real serious problem in Columbus and all around Ohio.”
Although some people try to complete the tasks of tree injection by themselves, it is not something Michael recommends. “Sounds simple enough, bore a hole and inject the chemicals, but there’s a lot of people who don’t understand about how trees ingest nutrients. For instance, it’s much better on the tree for the chemicals to be given in the morning when the weather is cooler, so that the chemicals are taken more quickly by the tree. In the summertime, the transpiration rate is much higher in the morning than in the heat of the afternoon. Boring the hole too deep or too shallow into the trunk can cause damage. A certified arborist understands the science, and that the chemicals must be injected into the xylem layer of the tree’s bark for proper uptake distribution.”
In addition to tree removal, Joseph Tree Service also offers stump grinding, crown thinning, pruning, dead-wooding, cabling, consultation, hazardous tree assessment and storm damage repair to the greater Columbus area. “Only about 5 percent of our business requires a crane,” says Michael, “so we lease what we need from local rental companies.”
“We’d like to keep a slow, steady pace in our growth,” says David. “We’re not the ‘Charlie Chainsaw’ guys that run around undercutting prices and topping every tree out. We have an A rating from Angie’s List, have a positive rating from the Better Business Bureau and are completely insured. Again, our first choice is to save the trees, and we do a good deal of cabling and careful pruning to prevent the destruction of trees. Sure, we’d like to go out and buy a crane and new equipment, but you’ve got to grow the business first. In our company we have to wear a lot of hats. However, as we grow, we plan on adding professional staff — mechanics, computer service people, etc., and branch out into other avenues.”
“We love what we do in our business. We’re professional arborists, but we’re also full-time professional firefighters. Being firemen has given us this great opportunity to establish a business that will be here long after we’re gone. It’s a family business, and we’re going to build something that our family can be proud of,” says Michael.
Like everyone in the tree service industry, the brothers are now in peak season, and family time is precious. “Unlike most tree service companies, we don’t work weekends. That’s family time,” says David. “Because of that, we don’t get a lot of emergency service calls, but the ones we get receive the same great service.” Both men are helping to raise young families, and with the dangerous lives they lead in both professions, they feel they owe it to their families, and to themselves, to keep their weekends free.
“Of course, winter allows us a chance to slow down a little,” says Michael. “Although that’s also the time of year when we study for certifications. Education is an important element in becoming a truly professional arborist.” David adds, “We’re looking into working with local municipalities in the wintertime, to help them out after severe storms, and to keep our guys busy through the winter months.”
Working as firefighters allowed these two brothers to build the tree service business they always wanted. As their business grows, they’ll continue saving people from fires and trees from diseases and pests.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2012 and has been updated.