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The City Journals

City snowplow drivers bolster safety through harsh weather

Feb 10, 2017 11:57AM ● By Tori La Rue

West Jordan employees line up snowplow trucks in preparation for a storm. (West Jordan City)

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

When heavy snow storms hit, there can be 50 to 70 West Jordan employees working on snow removal at a time, and Richard Smolik and Tim Peters were two of those assigned to 12-hour shifts on Christmas. 

Smolik and Peters, however, seemed content to be behind the wheel of a plow truck on the morning of this past Dec. 25. Perhaps it’s because with Smolik’s 33 years of experience and Peters 11 years, they’re both city public works veterans, used to the holiday blizzards, but Smolik gave a different answer as to why he doesn’t mind plowing snow. 

“Sometimes you find a place to work, and you stay there because you like the people,” he said. “Why would you leave?” 

Peters, Smolik and so many other West Jordan snowplow drivers are so willing to help the community out, their boss Justin Stoker, deputy public works director said, even if that means missing Christmas with their families, he added. 

So, during the rain, snow and sleet, these professional drivers continue clearing the roads, whether it be on Christmas or any other storm-stricken day. 

“I wish that residents could somehow put themselves in the shoes of our crews after a 12-hour shift to help them see all these people are doing to make sure our public is safe,” West Jordan Mayor Kim Rolfe said, continuing to call the employees “heroes.”

Rolfe took on his own challenge early in January when he, a licensed and professional commercial driver, hopped behind the wheel of a plow. With Smolik in the passenger seat, Rolfe cleared a West Jordan subdivision road, paying attention to what obstacles might lie in the path of the plow blade. 

“It gives you a different perspective,” he said about his driving experience. “That 12-foot blade, the trees that overhang the street, the parked cars—it’s an eye-opening perspective sitting in the cab, driving in that truck versus just seeing the truck go down the road.” 

Smolik, Peters and the rest of the snow-removal team have an excellent safety track record of avoiding tree branches, mailboxes, parked cars and other things that are in the way, according to Stoker. 

“There may be one mailbox hit in an entire winter, and even those you wonder if that mailbox was even in the ground properly,” he said. “But you consider all that goes into it—the 10-wheel Mack trucks on residential streets and everything involved in it—and realize that these guys are so awesome at taking care of personal property. The safety record is astronomical. You can’t beat it.” 

Even with the safety record, Peters and Stoker urge residents to trim their overhanging tree limbs and avoid parking their cars in the street. Street parking is against city ordinance in the winter months, but aside from that, it also makes the job of the snow-plowing employees much harder, Stoker said. 

City public information officer Kim Wells also asked residents to wait 24 hours after a storm before calling to report that a neighborhood hasn’t been plowed yet. Main roads are the first priority in a storm, and if the snow is continually falling, it may take awhile for plows to get to the neighborhoods. 

Stoker also wanted to let residents know that the crews try to avoid stacking snow on people’s personal property. 

“There’s no vendetta against people,” Stoker said. “We’re not trying to block driveways on purpose. But the thing is, the driver doesn’t just come by and make the snow disappear; the snow has to go somewhere, and these guys do an excellent job. Sometimes there’s nowhere else for it to go.”

Since West Jordan began salting and plowing residential streets, Wells said the comments on snow removal throughout the city have been “99 percent positive.” Rolfe said that’s a stark contrast to early 2014 when he received daily complaints from elderly residents whose streets had been iced over for weeks. It was at that point that Rolfe and the city council decided to upgrade the city’s fleet vehicles and start having city employees plow all city streets. 

Rolfe said snow removal is the most frequent topic he receives compliments about West Jordan from residents and non-residents alike. 

“It’s a noticeable difference between our roads and the state’s roads,” Rolfe said. “Snow removal is something that works in West Jordan.” 

West Jordan staff has snow removal down to a science, according to Stoker, but every storm requires a unique plan. While heavy storms may require 70 workers and cost up to $100,000 for snow removal alone, smaller storms only require six plowmen and barely dip into the budget, he said. 

Peters and his co-workers monitor the weather forecast and compare notes to determine what they will need to have set up for the storm. Public works employees stock the trucks full of salt and prepare them for departure long before the storm happens and get an on-call list ready, so employees can be prepared to travel to the building quickly when the storm occurs. 

While many residents may think public works is the only department involved in snow removal, the city’s parks and recreation department, fire department, inspection team and facilities group also remove snow, so there’s a lot of coordination and pre-determined assignments, Stoker said. 

“It’s really a project where everyone gets involved, and that makes a huge difference,” Stoker said. 

Stoker and Rolfe said they’re looking forward to next year when the snow removal service can be streamlined even more. The new public works building that’s currently under construction will allow more salt storage and more convenient loading stations for the city’s vehicles. With the new building, which will likely be completed by February 2018, Stoker said more trucks will be loaded with salt and ready to hit the streets before the on-call workers arrive on-scene.