Thursday, February 3, 2011
Just after 9 a.m. Wednesday Dan Breeden picks up his radio and asks about refilling his assigned truck, no. 105, with salt. Before he receives a response, a call comes over the radio asking for a driver to help a dump truck get out of the City Warehouse lot. Breeden heads straight over and after clearing the snow in front of the dump truck, it heads downtown to cart away the loads of snow piled high around businesses.
Breeden says the snow that is plowed and piled has to go somewhere, so tractors shovel it into dump trucks which then take it out to Morningside, the city storage lot, to unload it.
“We’ll make the business owners happy,” he said.
A call comes through the radio again announcing that it’s too cold outside to salt the roads, thus Breeden foregoes refilling his truck and drives out to Tanglewood instead. The subdivision is part of Breeden’s assigned section of the city. He uses 105, one of the large snowplows, to clear streets and subdivisions on the west side of Fulton.
Snow flies up the right side of the road as Breeden plows the streets in Tanglewood, making the snow piles in front of homes even higher. He said he feels bad that he has to push the snow so high up on the side of the road, but the snow has to go somewhere.
Sometimes if Breeden sees someone struggling in their driveway, he’ll do what he can to help out. Rob Bristow was overwhelmed with snow in front of his home and was trying futilely to use his snow blower to clear it. Breeden dropped the plow and had the large drifts in front of Bristow’s drive cleared in a matter of minutes. Bristow was happy with Breeden’s “perfect” timing.
“Timing is everything,” he said and laughed. He then offered his helper a cup of coffee, but Breeden couldn’t stay.
“They really appreciate it when you help ’em out,” Breeden said.
After plowing the streets around Tanglewood, Breeden stopped off at the Fulton Fire Department on Westminster Avenue to spread some salt. Even though salt isn’t usually used when temperatures are below freezing, Breeden said it’s still used in front of the ambulance, fire and police stations so emergency personnel don’t have to worry about ice.
When snow is in the forecast, the Street Department employees head to the City Warehouse and check the lights and plows on the trucks, grease up the equipment, fill-up with fuel, load-up with salt and then cover the salt with a tarp to keep it dry. Then they begin their long days and nights.
This snowstorm, Breeden was put on the day shift. He began at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday and worked until 9:30 p.m. Tuesday’s freezing rain meant spreading salt, but then when it changed to snow, Breeden began plowing, sometimes going over the same streets again and again. He said the snow was falling so fast and the drifting was so bad that by the time he reached the end of a street, it was again covered with snow, and he had to go right back over it.
Some members of the street crew weren’t able to make it home Tuesday night, so the city put them up at Holiday Inn. Breeden began plowing at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday after staying at the hotel and said he may not get off until 8 p.m. There are also drivers who plow through the night, working 8 p.m.-8 a.m. Breeden works nights sometimes, too.
“It doesn’t bother me to work at night, because there’s no traffic,” he explained.
The city can only have drivers on for 12 hours at a time, Breeden says, so any hours they work after 12 are volunteer. He said sometimes the extra time is necessary to make sure the roads are clear.
“You have to really, because people have to get out,” he said.
Merlin Smith, assistant supervisor for the Street Department, said there are 12 employees in the department and all have a Class A or B commercial driver’s licenses (CDL). Smith said his crew is working hard trying to keep all the main routes in Fulton clear.
“I think they’re doing a beautiful job,” Smith said.
Helping people out
Periodically, one of the city vehicles gets stuck. Breeden explains that even though one of their own will come get them out, it’s not a good thing. Whoever is unlucky enough to become stuck also has to buy the rest of the crew sodas. Chains are put on the tires to avoid such predicaments.
Mostly, the plow drivers have to help residents get unstuck. They get dispatched to help vehicles out of a tight spot or to areas that are icy or snow is deep. Breeden said most of the time people are happy to see them.
“Everybody’s always so grateful,” he said. “You have people that do complain, but they complain about everything anyway.”
During the blizzard, plows were dispatched with ambulances. Breeden said a driver had to take an ambulance out to pick up a pregnant woman Tuesday night.
“I try to help out everybody, because if there’s somebody out there you really don’t want ‘em to be stuck or freeze to death or anything,” he said.
Breeden, 58, has worked for the city for about two years. He left a job where he had to travel a lot for one where he could be home every night with his wife, Tammy. He has lived in Bachelor since 1995 and has seven children and 13 grandchildren. He said he likes working for the Street Department.
“It’s like a family here,” he said.