VERNON - When Traci Jeeves goes to work, she fully expects to get flipped the bird, sworn at, maybe even spat on.
Most people don’t have to worry about that kind of thing when they show up to their job, but for traffic flaggers, it’s all in a day’s work.
“I’ve been lied to by people wanting to go 'just over there' when it really means they want to go over to the other end, I’ve had slurpies thrown at my staff, I’ve had staff that have been bumped by a vehicle when they want to be pushed through the line-up. You name it,” says Traci Jeeves, the owner of Okanagan Traffic Control.
Today, Jeeves is directing traffic on Okanagan Avenue in Vernon. Blonde pigtails fan out from under her hard hat as she whips her head back and forth, assessing hazards. This is a comparatively quiet job site with low traffic volume, but even still Jeeves is constantly on alert. With heavy machinery working nearby, she uses hand signals and frequent eye contact to communicate with equipment operators, other flaggers and drivers.
She’s constantly on her toes, ready to jump or tuck-and-roll at all times.
“How often do I have to move out of the way? Every single day,” she says.
The biggest myth about flagging? That all you do is stand around.
“On average, I put about 28,000 steps on my Fit Bit a day,” Jeeves says, raising her voice over the loud machinery.
She’s been flagging for more than 20 years in the Okanagan and there are few drives she can take without passing by an old work site.
“I’ve redone the intersection at Hospital Hill two times now,” she says.
She loves her job and the people she works with, but admits there are ups and downs.
“Often, we don’t get a lot of happy people. We’re making people late, we’re taking up too much of their time,” she says. “At the end of the day, we’re not trying to make anyone’s day miserable. This is what we do. This is our livelihood.”
Earning a living was what Isabelle Bourroughs, 66, was doing on Nov. 17, the day she was hit by a car. She sustained severe injuries and died in hospital roughly three weeks later. Police say the 75-year-old driver who hit her was unable to stop in time. An investigation is ongoing.
Bourroughs, known as Belle to her friends, worked for Okanagan Traffic Control. She and Jeeves were close friends.
“After the incident, I started wondering whether or not I wanted to continue,” Jeeves says. “But I think now I have to make a footprint in Isabelle’s honour that things are going to change... we’re going to hopefully be a better industry.”
Jeeves has a rigorous health and safety policy and flaggers have to complete a full assessment and plan before even setting foot on a work site. She has binders filled with the recommended configurations for every kind of site, and protocols for every situation. She thought she’d seen it all in her two decades of flagging, but admits there is a limit to what you can prepare for.
“My friend who had 37 years (experience) wasn’t expecting that. She probably would have tucked and rolled if she’d had any indication he wasn’t going to stop,” Jeeves says.
She hopes drivers will slow down and pay more attention, maybe even give a smile or a wave as they pass by a traffic control worker.
“That makes you happy, at least until the next driver comes along,” Jeeves says.
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