NORTH ANDOVER — One could say John Lavin, senior foreman for the Division of Public Works, knows a thing or two about trees.
The Massachusetts Tree Wardens’ and Foresters’ Association agrees. The organization recently honored Lavin, 50, who started working for DPW in October 1997, as Tree Warden of the Year.
Public Works Director Bruce Thibodeau nominated Lavin for this distinction. When Lavin was recognized for his achievement by the selectmen Monday night, Thibodeau told the board the senior foreman is a “terrific town employee” who has been “a rock for me since I’ve been here.”
Lavin pointed out during a recent interview that he’s not actually the town’s official tree warden. That duty is held by the Board of Selectmen, he said.
As part of his DPW duties, however, he serves as the unofficial tree warden. In this capacity, he is responsible for evaluating the condition of trees growing on town property or on rights of way, he said.
If a tree is in danger of falling on a road or poses a hazard, Lavin is the one who recommends that it be cut down. He then supervises the DPW crew that removes the tree.
Has there ever been a time when he was sad about cutting down a tree?
“Sure,” he said. A few years ago, he and his crew had to cut down a weeping beech tree on the town’s Common. He estimated it was 125 or maybe even 150 years old.
“It was a beautiful tree,” he said — but it was diseased and had to yield to the chain saws.
More recently, last August, the owners of a house on Second Street tried to save an old maple that was in front of their property. The ailing tree was close to power lines, however, and an arborist with National Grid and Lavin both agreed that it had to be removed.
After working for Valley Tree Service for 13 years, Lavin started as a tree climber with North Andover DPW. He was then promoted to tree foreman, then promoted again to his present position.
He has learned his trade, he said, “from the ground up.” He constantly stresses two things with the workers he supervises, he said: Don’t get hurt and don’t damage any property.
While using a chain saw, he said, the operator should wear a hard hat, safety glasses and safety chaps to avoid injury. The hand holding the handle of a chain saw should be wrapped entirely around the handle, with the thumb touching a finger, he said.
Felling trees is a very dangerous job and plenty of people have been killed or seriously injured while pursuing this occupation. With the exception of a few back sprains, Lavin has avoided injuries, he said.
The emerald ash borer, a beetle that infests and kills white ash trees, has been found in North Andover recently.
“It has the potential to be serious,” Lavin said. For now, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation is taking the lead in meeting this challenge, he pointed out. The state agency will be cutting sample white ashes during the next few weeks to determine how widespread the threat is.
Lavin and his wife, Darlene, live in Haverhill. He grew up in Groveland and graduated from Pentucket Regional High School.
He has three stepdaughters and two grandchildren.