LITTLE VALLEY - The predicted forecast has arrived, and the lake effect snow is falling heavily across the county. It is 4 a.m. and instead of being in bed, you're out operating a snow plow to keep the roads safe and open for the traveling public. Snow plowing is a job that requires extensive training and experience, along with the ability to continuously monitor and adapt to changing conditions. And, it's a job that the men and women of Cattaraugus County Department of Public Works take very seriously.
"Snow plowing can be very challenging," said Rick Abers, DPW snow plow operator since 1989. "It's also very rewarding to know that my efforts are keeping the public safe. There's nothing like seeing a clean road behind me."
The county has 77 employees and 39 pieces of rolling equipment dedicated to its two-shift snow removal operations, which run from 4 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; and 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. These employees are stationed at six highway barns located in the Town of Allegany, Town of Mansfield, Township of Machias, Village of Randolph, Township of Dayton, and Township of Ashford.
Standing in front of a 10-wheel, tandem axle snow plow are, from left, Joan Rule, Cliff Briggs, Gary Rodgers, and supervisor Brian Blinn. This crew works the second shift out of Cattaraugus County DPW’s Town of Ashford Highway Barn (not pictured: Matthew Spittler).
These employees use snow plows, loaders and three graders (if needed) to plow more than 390 miles of road. Annually, the county's snow removal operations will use 15,800 tons of salt and 50,000 tons of sand to keep these roads clean and safe for travel.
Drivers contact the DPW's dispatcher when they start and complete their respective snow plow routes. First and foremost, this practice is to ensure that all snow plow operators are safe. The second reason is to ensure that all roads are plowed at least twice per shiftmore if needed. Finally, it provides a record for DPW's snow removal operations of when roads have been plowed and their current condition.
"Each snow fall brings a different plan of attack," said Jeff Reid, County Operations Manager. "No snow fall or storm is the same, and therefore, we have to plan accordingly to ensure the best possible results for keeping county roads clean, clear and safe for travel. There is a science in how we mix our salt and sand to produce the best results for each snow fall."
"It's also very rewarding to know that my efforts are keeping the public safe. There's nothing like seeing a clean road behind me."
DPW Snow Plow Operator
According to Reid, the county's normal salt/sand mixture is a 30/70 split, respectively. The county will change that mix to a 10/90 salt/sand mixture when the temperature drops below zero. Since salt does not work as effectively when the temperature falls below zero, the mixture must be changed to create a gritty surface for traction. Other strategies include not salting/sanding the road in certain areas when the snow is blowing across the road. If you did, the salt would cause the snow to stick on that portion of the road and build up instead of blowing clear.
A normal 10-wheeler weighs between 35-40 tons with a plow, wing, and loaded sander. A CDL driver operates all the attachments from a single control panel inside the cab. These controls were redesigned to provide the operator quick and precise control and maneuverability of the plow blade and wing. Many variables can adversely affect snow removal operations, from bumps in the road to steel-deck bridges. An operator must not only know his/her route, but be thoroughly familiar with all its potential obstacles and conditions. Each highway barn has a road crew that's responsible for keeping the public safe, along with a road section supervisor who patrols the road conditions for effective and efficient snow removal operations.
"It's a job that not everyone can do," said Jim Burmester, County Road Section Supervisor and plow operator since 1977. "When plowing, you have to be fully engaged at all times. Any distraction, big or small, can be disastrous when it involves a heavy piece of rolling equipment and a moving or permanent structure. No matter how tough it can get, I get a sense of pride knowing that my job helps to keep people safe. After all, that's what it is all about."
Janet Pfeiffer, a 15-year snow plow operator, agrees with other drivers in that snow plowing can be very challenging given the ever-changing conditions. "There are always challenges when dealing with Mother Nature, but keeping the public safe makes it all worth it."
Comedian, Actor and Writer Carl Reiner was once said: "I think that snow was an unnecessary freezing of water." Whether it is or isn't, we can all be sure it's going to happen every winter in Western New York and Cattaraugus County. The good news is that there are men and women from all municipalities who are dedicated in keeping the roads in our county safe for travel.
The Cattaraugus County Department of Public Works was created in 1985 by the Cattaraugus County Legislature to consolidate the operations of the Highway, Refuse, and Buildings and Grounds divisions. It is devoted to the maintenance of the 398 miles of road, 265 bridges, 252 culverts and 466 drainage structures under County jurisdiction.