Phillips might as well be mayor for the next month

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 24, 2004

He’s not the mayor. He doesn’t sit in a high-rise office shuffling million-dollar trades across Wall Street. He is, however, the most important man in Demopolis – for at least another month.

From the way his phone started ringing 10 days ago, Kenny Phillips might as well have been the mayor. And, in a sense, Phillips has spent the past week working in a high-rise office.

With a chainsaw.

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Phillips owns one of two tree services in Demopolis, and he never hesitates to take a job removing even the peskiest of hardwoods – stump grinding and all. But this is getting a little ridiculous.

Before Hurricane Ivan arrived last Thursday, the phone started ringing.

“A lady in Nanfalia called Wednesday and asked if we would come take a tree down before [the hurricane] got here,” Phillips said.

While work is normally steady during the summer months, Phillips learned an entirely new meaning of “back orders” around 7 a.m. last Thursday. He usually works with two other people; now he’s got seven on stand-by.

“We started working right after it hit,” Phillips said while standing at the foot of another tree that needed amputation from a Demopolis business.

On any given day, Phillips and his crew begin work around 7 a.m. “We’ll be doing that for at least another three weeks,” he said.

That’s just with the tree-removal requests Phillips has now.

“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing yet,” he said. “If people need some work done, they can call and get in line.”

Last Thursday, Hurricane Ivan’s 75 m.p.h. winds sacked hundreds of shallow-rooted trees in Demopolis and West Alabama. With many of the trees resting on area homes, Phillips and his crew have handled a work-load of about 5 big jobs a day.

“When I say a big job, that’s an oak tree that’s 36-inches wide,” he said.

There’s not much with which Phillips can compare the past week’s experience.

“Back when Tuscaloosa had those two tornadoes, we had a lot of work,” he said. “But that was about one-tenth of this.”

Though his job is meticulous in nature, it’s also proven to be quite dangerous. In Demopolis, there have already been at least two reports of chainsaw injuries.

“My advice would be to hire a professional,” Phillips said. “It’s not just a chainsaw that’s dangerous, either. People don’t realize that a limb on the ground can pop up and hit them in the face or break their leg.”

Phillips, who first started in the tree-removal business in 1983, said homeowners need to be especially careful.

“Safety is the biggest thing,” he said. “It’s not a good idea to get up on the house because there’s too much that can happen.”

Those still looking for tree service will have to wait for Phillips’ service, but using a professional – including Walker Tree Service – may be more than a safe decision. With insurance claims an important part of the clean-up effort, Phillips said he has worked closely with the insurance companies in the area.

“Normally, we’ll just send the bill directly to them,” he said.

And normally, a tree service wouldn’t be the most important business in a West Alabama town. For the next month, though, Phillips likely will remain the most popular vendor around.