One of the up-and-coming companies in the vacuum excavation space is Sunny Green Environmental in Kamloops, British Columbia. While the company may be new to the sector, its leadership is no stranger to the industry in Western Canada.
At the helm is Tyler Christiansen, who has spent the better part of the last two decades in the industry. This is a fete considering his first run-in with a vacuum excavator truck in Vancouver.
“I was starting out in Vancouver working for a company running a high-pressure water unit and I worked a long day, and they asked me to do another shift,” he recalls. “It was the middle of February, and they asked me to take a truck down to North Vancouver and I said alright.”
The truck was an early hydrovac and it was nothing that Christiansen had ever seen or used before. It was a tandem steer with tandem drive axles. His coworkers told him it was a great piece of machinery.
“It was old and had seen its better days, but I drove it to where these drillers were working basically in Downtown Vancouver. It was tight and I had this huge truck. It’s freezing cold, it’s dark and I had to vac out the drill mud from these plastic totes,” he says. “The mud was freezing, the boiler didn’t work and I had to try and vac it out while trying to figure out how to run the machine. It was a two-man job, and I was there by myself.”
The work was so cumbersome that he didn’t get back home until 4 a.m. and he swore at that moment, that he would never run another vacuum excavator again because it was the worst piece of equipment ever.
As things in life go, Christiansen became more experienced with the equipment and grew to appreciate its place in the construction industry. After a few years, he ended up working for a vacuum excavation company in Kamloops and helped grow it over the span of a decade and to a point that the company was poised to take advantage of the Trans Mountain Pipeline work.
On Their Own
After many years of working for other people Christiansen and his business partner and lifelong friend Caleb Hanaghan decided it was time to make a permanent move and step out on their own in early 2023 to grow Sunny Green Environmental. Hanaghan worked for Christiansen at the previous company, so he wasn’t a stranger to the industry.
As Christiansen puts it, they went from an idea to six trucks and a water truck running almost every day in Kamloops and the surrounding area in just six months. He acknowledges that a lot of that rapid growth was through connections he made within the industry and the community.
The work is mostly for local contractors and there is some energy pipeline work doing utility locates and drilling support. Christiansen hopes to get Sunny Green Environmental’s trucks back on the bigger pipeline work soon.
“We have two brand new trucks coming. One in September and one in October, so out of the six, we’ll have four that are new and two 2018 trucks,” he says. “And we are in the process of getting our COR Certification.”
Considering supply chain issues, how were they able to get off the ground running as quickly as they did?
“We have good equipment, and we have the best guys working for us,” he says. “I tell them that I can get the phone to ring and it’s up to them to keep the phones ringing.”
Sunny Green Environmental Fleet
On the equipment front, the entire fleet are tri-drive Foremost Vac Trucks that Sunny Green purchased from Summit Truck Equipment in Alberta. Rod Bishke, general manager at Summit Truck Equipment, made it possible. “If it wasn’t for him, this wouldn’t have happened. He’s been a really important part of how we got here,” Christiansen says.
Part of what made it easier to get the equipment was a focus on what was important – the pump, blower and boiler – and not getting wrapped up in what chassis he bought or the color. “I like the Cat Pumps, the small Robuschi 125 blower and a 110-volt boiler with at least a 700 BTU boiler on it. The rest doesn’t really matter,” he says.
Christiansen enjoys being part of the industry, but he does see areas where improvements can be made, particularly when it comes to knowledge of the equipment and its proper use.
“They say it’s a license to print money. No, it’s not and that’s why people give the industry a bad name because they don’t know what they are doing,” he says. “That increases the chance of safety incidents which in turn raises the WorkSafe rates for the industry.”
For its part, Sunny Green Environmental has created a training program that Christiansen developed based on his knowledge and experience in the industry. This program includes a proper orientation, reading the company’s entire safety manual and working the new hire into a mentorship program with one of Sunny Green’s senior operators.
“The goal is to get it to where the crew is experienced enough that they can pull a truck up the job and get to work without even talking to each other because they know what to do,” he says. “I tell them that their job, when they go to work, is to make the job as easy as possible for the guy beside you. The guy beside you, his job is to make your job as easy as possible. If you go to work with that mental set, your job should be easier and more enjoyable.”
Looking ahead, Christiansen says that he and Hanaghan are hoping to return to major pipeline work soon. They are also looking forward to growing Sunny Green Environmental in Kamloops and being more involved in the community. And at the same they are looking for all opportunities to keep their trucks and operators busy.