Before the first big snow, a message from your friendly neighbourhood snow plow driver | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops News

Before the first big snow, a message from your friendly neighbourhood snow plow driver

KAMLOOPS - As the winter cold nears closer and we all begin to worry about how we are going to battle driving through the snow, there is a very small group of people that sacrifice Christmas dinner and New Years Eve parties ever year just to make sure you get home safe.

With a team of just 30 staff and four crew chiefs, the City of Kamloops street maintenance team manages 1,650 kilometres of road for the more than 90,000 residents. That means a lot of long hours worked and a lot of missed family time over the winter months.

"Especially for parents with children, that's the bigger sacrifice is when we give them the call and they're just about to sit down at the dinner table with their kids and we say you're coming to work," says Streets Supervisor Joe Luison. "We do run the standby so they know that they might have to come but that is one of the biggest things the crews always talk about is having to leave the dinner table to come make sure everybody else can drive home safely."

Plow drivers work a regular eight hour shift from Monday to Friday with the possibility for those shifts to go twelve hours if there is a heavy snowfall. But starting at the beginning of December the drivers must be on standby for twelve hours a day every other weekend.

"The way standby works is they get a call from a crew leader and in half an hour they need to be here on a truck plowing snow," says Streets and Environmental Services Manager Glen Farrow. "It's pretty intense. They need to be in the city of Kamloops, no drinking, be available ready to come to work."

That's right: No rum in the eggnog on a Saturday night and going to visit family out of town is out of the question.

"That's definitely given up for every other weekend that they have to be on standby... it is a requirement of the role," says Farrow. "As it relates to Christmas, that's unique ... either they work Christmas Day and Boxing Day or the other two stats in January and February."

At first, Farrow and Luison admit most of the younger drivers get dollar signs in their eyes and start drooling over all the money they are going to make. The reality of the sacrifice the job entails sets in pretty quickly though.

"Usually they'll come in if we get some early snowfall, the excitement's there but it dwindles quite fast when you start to lose a personal life for sure," says Luison. "As the staff get older the younger ones are a little more OK with it but as families start to develop it's a bigger stress for sure."

"Say we have a pretty good sized snowfall November and into December come mid-January they aren't nearly as excited to come out," says Farrow. "February and March it's almost like pulling teeth. This year we have extended the weekends when they are on standby so we can guarantee having staff to fill our allotments and service levels later into February."

Despite the hard work and sacrifice of the city's road crews make all winter, they still see their share of complaints from residents.

"The two most common complaint areas that we receive are around cul de sacs; 'why did clear my cul de sac this way,'" says Farrow. "And windrows: 'Why is there always a windrow in front of my driveway, why can't you move that? In Prince George they remove it, why can't we have that in Kamloops?' We hear those kinds of complaints and comments regularly."

With a snow clearing budget of just $1.76 million in Kamloops compared to more than $7 million in Prince George which has less than half the road to plow, Farrow says residents can do a lot to make sure the city continues to keep the streets clear while staying on budget.

"It's a real community effort," he says. "A lot of landscape contractors do a lot of work for strata companies. Individual homeowners and residents have a long list of responsibilities that they're required to do based on our by-laws and some of those things that might not necessarily be a bylaw but are common sense ... it would be a huge improvement if they just didn't park on the side of the road rather than using their driveway."

Other things people can do to help the cause are keeping basketball hoops and hockey nets off the street, and parking RVs far enough away from the road that the hitch won't get clipped by a truck.

Simple steps like clearing your driveway and not putting the snow back on the road will make life easier for the plow drivers, but Luison has an interesting tip if you want to make life easier on yourself and avoid those annoying windrows.

"They always say 'well I cleaned in front of my house,'" he says. "Well snow in front of your driveway, the windrow, is actually from your neighbour's home. It sounds odd but I personally clean snow away from my neighbours front yard so I get a smaller windrow."

Part of what makes plowing snow in Kamloops such a unique battle is the geography. Because of the massive difference in elevation between different neighbourhoods, Farrow says he will often hear from property owners who don't feel their street is getting enough attention but they don't realize the work being done elsewhere.

"It's important to take a step back and understand what we're analyzing, what we're doing, and how we're deploying our resources," he says. "Just because you're not seeing anything out your door doesn't mean weren't out all night struggling up in Juniper and Aberdeen."

Farrow, Luison, and the people that make up their crews are the first line of defence when it comes to keeping people safe during the holidays, and that isn't lost on them. Taking nothing away from police, paramedics, or firefighters, Farrow says he feels the small team of men and women that keep the streets clear are as important as any first responder when the weather turns bad.

"The work that our crews do, every disaster we've had, flooding say out in Westsyde, yes the firetrucks are there but it was our crew clearing the road of rock and gravel and mud," he say. "No difference in the winter time if a police car or a fire truck is unable to get there, they're looking to us to plow the way to get there. We take a lot of pride in the work that we do."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Mike McDonald or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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