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Roof maintenance: The most dangerous game

Roof maintenance: The most dangerous game

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One hand holding the aluminum ladder and the other a pole saw, I put one foot on the lowest rung and prepare to ascend a story.

Yes, I know that between 1990 and 2005 2,177,888 people from 1 month to 101 years old were rushed to emergency rooms across the country for ladder-related injuries. I have no choice.

Warily I climb. I try to ignore the fact that an average of 136,118 people every year — that’s 49.5 per 100,000 people in the United States — set out with similar goals of going up only to fall down.

I’m on a mission.

Back in February, a winter storm blew through and left half of a tree up on the roof. Now the branches are so close to a power line that I wish my sorry rear were fireproof as I pull a Hank Homeowner, single-person assault to remove the treetop resting partly on the shingles and partly on the shattered shards of the tree’s shaft that towers another story over the carport.

He likes his odds

I’m prepared.

I know men make up 76.5 percent of ladder-related injuries. I know that foot and leg fractures account for 30 percent of the injuries, that 10 percent of the falls require hospitalization and that 97 percent involve homeowners and farmers, but on I climb until I can clamber onto the roof and carefully walk over the top to the other side.

I size up my opponent. It’s big. I apply the pole saw to the treetop, sawing with great caution, shifting my weight from leg to leg to keep the blade moving through the soft pine without upsetting my precarious balance.

Balance is important.

Unintentional falls account for 7.4 percent of deaths for people between the ages of 45 and 55, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2007, accidental falls were the single largest cause of emergency room treatment across all age groups except for 15- to 24-year-olds, an age group that has its own issues with which to grapple.

I saw away. The tree, resting on the roof, puts pressure on the blade and I have to give occasional mighty tugs to extricate it. I flip the pole saw over and use the pruning attachment, reapply the saw and send a major portion of the tree over the edge to the ground below, bellowing “timber” as it falls.

Aussie roof injuries

I’m very careful. Earlier this month, a sudden storm in Melbourne, Australia, damaged many homes. In less than a day, emergency crews had taken two dozen people to the hospital for falling while trying to repair storm damage, 10 of them falling off the roof and 24 going down ladders. An estimated 80 percent of the injured were men over 50.

That makes me nervous.

I clip and tug some branches and the treetop falls a few feet, now resting on the boughs of a nearby pine and not on the roof. I tie a rope to the tree and toss it down to the backyard.

Without fear, I grab the rope and pull the treetop free of its neighboring wood. I pull harder and it slides down the roof and comes crashing down a few feet in front of me, covering me in pine needles, cones and droplets of sap.

I shake my head in surprise. Luckily for me there are no statistics on middle aged men killed by busted trees being yanked off roofs.

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