Joe Legate is the owner-operator of JL’s Tree Service, a company he founded in 2014. This family-run company has grown to become the most reputable tree service provider in the Region of Waterloo and Wellington County area in Southern Ontario. Since 2019, the Haulotte 55XA Articulating Boom Lift has proven to be an invaluable piece of equipment for the company. Despite his busy schedule juggling family responsibilities, managing day-to-day operations, as well as handling the company’s social media presence, Joe agreed to share his remarkable story with us.
Can you tell us about JL’s Tree Service in a few words?
I founded JL’s Tree Service in 2014. We primarily focus on tree removal, tree trimming services and emergency tree work.
From 2014 to 2019, we specifically did only climb work, which means accessing the tree with ropes. We are tied in with the rope and the lanyard, and we physically climb out to the end of each limb, cut the ends off, and rig everything down with rope systems so that everything comes down controlled.
It’s a very dangerous profession, especially when we’re not always climbing and removing beautiful, healthy trees. It’s always hazardous trees or dead trees so there’s an inevitable amount of risk involved with it. This is why we started getting into the equipment world in 2019.
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your professional background? What led you to start your own business, and what did you used to do before?
I did a lot of dead-end jobs from my early to mid 20s and I was unhappy with what I was doing. After several years, my girlfriend at the time, now my wife, urged me to find something I was passionate about. This led me to pursue firefighting because I really like helping people.
I like physical work and dynamic situations. During the fire training, there was a chapter on high angle rescue, where it involves setting up a high line and rappelling down a cliff or a building to save people. I really liked that part of the job, and it ignited my passion for rope access.
I started working with a gentleman that has a business near Toronto doing courses in rope access training, with students in rock climbing, for example. After two years, I took rope access training and transitioned into arboriculture. What drew me to it was the constant variety of challenges, it’s never the same trees twice. You’re always problem-solving and figuring out different ways to do the job.
Could you tell us a little bit more about the characteristics of the trimming business?
Tree work is a lot more complex than most people think, we see this a lot when I do site visits and estimates and try to explain our process to people. You can’t just go to a tree with a chainsaw, cutting it at the base and felling it like a lumberjack.
For example, if there’s a pool right below the tree, there’s no way we can do that without causing a tremendous amount of property damage. We always have to come up with a plan of approach that takes the tree down safely while ensuring that nothing below gets broken.
Under what conditions do you choose to use the Haulotte 55XA Boom rather than another machine?
It depends on the layout of the property and our options for access, to get equipment to the tree. Sometimes we’re in the city where there’s a 2-foot-wide garden gate on one side of the house, and on the other side there’s a 2-foot space with an air conditioner in the way, so it’s really limited to get anything back there.
But when we have clear access and enough room, we always take the safest method possible, and that is the Haulotte 55XA Boom. The Haulotte boom is very helpful for us to access the tree and it allows us to cut specific sizes of limbs out of the tree, we’re not limited to only being able to cut where we can reach.
Can you tell us about the most complicated project that you've carried out?
The tree was about 100 feet up over the top of this gorge, and we had to set up three 600-foot zip lines and go out on the zip lines to access the tree and then cut it down in pieces. I had to hang from two zip lines. We rigged the tree,
I cut the tree apart and it swung out and hung from the third zip line, then we traversed the pieces 300 feet across the river through this zip line to the other side of the cliff. The township there told us that we couldn’t drop any of the tree into the river and they were there monitoring us, so that is why we did it the way we did.
It was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity and I was terrified to do it, but once we got it all figured out, it went smoothly. I think this will go down as one of the hardest jobs I’ll ever do.
What are the main difficulties that you encounter daily?
The biggest challenge in the tree industry is the employees: Finding capable staff and people that want to do this for a living. A lot of people want to do tree work, but not a lot of people have the mental capacity and physical ability for it.
You must have someone that wants to do it, has the ability to learn and grow, and has situational awareness to understand their surroundings.
We also face a lot of logistical challenges. It’s very rare that a job lasts longer than a day, so we’re always moving a lot of equipment back and forth from our yard to a different site. There can be truck breakdowns or challenges regarding parking, like when we show up to a job and there are four big trucks, we need 200 feet of property along the front of the house to park the trucks.
How do you train your team for this very special job and make sure that they’re safe all the time?
We prefer our staff to have training prior to working with us, such as getting certified at a local college where they can receive a lot of fundamental training. However, that’s not always the case in this industry because arboriculture is still considered as a cowboy trade. It’s not a licensed Red Seal trade like an electrician or a plumber, and I hope it eventually transitions into that. There are people from all walks of life thinking they can do it and attempting tree work, and it leads to a lot of accidents and deaths in the tree industry because there are no main requirements to be able to do it.
My biggest thing with anyone that works with us is their attitude, because you can’t change someone’s attitude, but you can always teach them skills. That’s why we invite potential hires to spend a couple of days with us to see if it’s a good fit both for them and our crew. For me, it’s all about having good morale, professional people, and a happy, productive job site.
You post a lot of content on social networks and your community keeps growing. How did you come up with the idea to share your daily life?
The social media aspect emerged in the last 5-10 years here. It started off as a fun thing for me, but then I realized that I could show what I was doing for my job every day, because I sincerely love what I do.
Social media is where I get to tell that story. It does come from pure passion, but there is also the business side of it. People get a good glimpse into who we are before they even reach out to us. We’re hoping that social media will eventually become the main way that people choose who to call for their services because it allows you to show who you are as a person and as a company.
Can you tell us a bit about a big project you're working on now or will be working on in the next few months?
I met with a client at 8 p.m. last night and they own these brand-new homes. These are estate properties that have been there for about two or three years, and there are large dead trees behind the houses.
The Haulotte lift is the answer for that, so we’ll build a bridge and drive the lift across this creek since it’s a self-propelled unit, which is a tremendous selling point of that machine. This will allow us to take down these big dead trees over the top of this client’s property. The trees are super dangerous because they have no bark on them and are about 80 feet tall.
JL’s Tree Service leverages the versatility of the Haulotte 55XA Articulating Boom Lift to provide exceptional tree services. With no shortage of breathtaking stories and new challenges, the company continues to grow and thrive under Joe’s limitless love and passion for tree work.