2013-02-15 / In the Know

Hats off to public works department

By B. Michael Thurlow Special contributor

Last week we found ourselves in the midst of an oldfashioned snowstorm, more like the ones I remember happening with much more frequency in my youth.

I’ve plowed snow since I first got my driver’s license, and for more than 35 years have always enjoyed being out all night serving my customers, listening to the public works crews go about their duties and responding to emergency calls.

During those years I recall many significant and challenging storms, but the Blizzard of 2013 certainly ranks right up there with the best of them.

With wind gusts over 55 mph and snowfall rates exceeding 3 inches per hour, this was certainly a challenging event for the crews from our public works department.

The snow started just after midnight on Friday morning, several hours earlier than originally forecast. By the end of the workday Friday we already had more than 8 inches on the ground and the actual blizzard was just getting organized south of New York City.

From about 2 a.m. Saturday morning until daylight, the crews had to deal with near zero visibility and white out conditions.

The conditions were so bad at times that several of the town’s plow operators had to stop plowing for their own safety because visibility was so poor they could barely stay on the road. Some of them stopped at the fire stations where they could seek shelter and on more than one occasion they responded with fire and EMS units to plow access to emergency calls.

The outstanding crews of Scarborough Public Works prepare for their critical role in protecting the public year round. They know and perform their jobs well. The department has an impressive fleet of well-maintained apparatus and a crew of mechanics and support personnel that keep them repaired and running well. Outstanding personnel and the right equipment are both critical because the department is responsible for plowing almost 200 miles of roads in our 54-square-mile community.

In municipal government, like private business, you can’t staff for the extraordinary events like a blizzard. Budgets are tight and staffing and equipment levels are based on average needs. That’s why I, and many of the town’s citizens, are so impressed by the outstanding job these crews did during this storm.

Director Mike Shaw doesn’t have the luxury of enough employees to stagger crews into shifts to provide reasonable work hours and rest. Instead he has just enough employees to man and maintain the frontline equipment with a few part-time helpers to fill in for illness and injuries. He has enough trucks to establish plow runs that efficiently handle the average 6- to 12- inch storm, not one that exceeded 30 inches.

When storms like this strike everyone needs to work longer and harder to get the job done. Deputy Director Dick Collins led the crews and orchestrated their efforts through an initial nonstop shift that went on for nearly 36 hours straight in deplorable conditions. They concentrated on the main roads, focusing on maintaining emergency access for police, fire and EMS. But before going home for some well-deserved rest these crews made sure that every neighborhood and dead end street was opened and accessible. Late Saturday afternoon, Shaw and a small group of mechanics and support personnel took over for the primary crew and chased drifts and problem spots throughout the night and into Sunday morning when the main crew returned to start pushing back, shelving and cleaning up at 4 a.m.

I take my hat off to everyone at Scarborough Public Works for a job very well done. I also want to recognize the rest of the first responder team for their excellent work during the storm. Many police, fire police, dispatchers and firefighter/EMTs worked long shifts responding to a variety of incidents. Many of your neighbors who serve as call firefighters in each of the neighborhood stations left their families and the safety of their own homes to provide stand-by coverage at our fire stations for 18 to 24 hours. Instead of sleeping in the comfort of their own beds, they slept in chairs or on military cots so that they would be available to respond to emergencies without delay.

The town of Scarborough has a long tradition of providing exceptional service to its citizens. The efforts of our public works department and first responders during the Blizzard of 2013 demonstrated that once again. If you have any questions, contact me at mthurl@ ci.scarborough.me.us.or 730-4201. B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

Return to top