If it is snowing you can bet Williams Lake public works manager Matt Sutherland is paying close attention.
“You have to go with the flow,” he said.
“A lot of people look at snow being a negative thing while a lot of other people love the snow and partaking in snowmobiling and things like that. Living in the Cariboo allows you to have those four seasons that we get.”
The biggest challenge of his job is dealing with Mother Nature.
“If it isn’t floods or heavy rain storms, it is large amounts of snow in a short period of time and sometimes with sub zero temperatures going to plus temperatures in a 24-hour period.”
Over the years he has learned to respect Mother Nature, he added.
Sutherland was 12 years old when his family left McAdam, New Brunswick and moved to Williams Lake.
By the time he was 16 years old, he was working part-time for the city at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex as a skate patrol, later moving into maintenance jobs.
After graduation he secured full-time employment at the complex, working outside in the summer months at the city’s parks.
In his early 20s he moved into the roads department at public works and never left.
“I learned all about the trade, how to run the equipment, eventually becoming roads foreman about 10 years ago. For the last three years I have been a manager of public works.”
While his parents and his two younger brothers returned to New Brunswick about 15 years ago, Sutherland chose to stay.
He was enjoying work, married his high school sweetheart Amanda Arrowsmith and they have a son who is now 15.
When he started working at the city, he said there were more of the older generation, soon-to-retire, people on staff that he learned a lot from.
“Now I feel like I’m becoming one of those older gentlemen,” he said, chuckling.
“We are certainly starting to see younger faces coming into the field. It’s a pleasure and enjoyment to pass along the tricks of the trade, the challenges they will face and some of the stories.”
Williams Lake has five trucks dedicated for snow removal. Two of them are larger tandem axle trucks and three are smaller single axle trucks.
The city also has one sidewalk clearing machine.
“After we get all that stuff cleaned up and our roads are cleared for safer travel, we have two wheel loaders with blades and buckets if need be, one loader that has a snowblower attachment and then we have one wheel grader that has a ring and a gate for opening up intersections and doing all the shouldering.”
There are also two backhoes, not typically used for snow removal, but the utility department will use them to assist and help out with a few parking lots and cul-de-sacs if needed when all the other equipment is running.
“We require contract trucks to push our snow dump for us and to plow a few areas when we get the heavy, heavy snowfalls. We do rely on the community to help us out and they always step up to the plate when we need them to,” Sutherland said.
When snow and ice hit the ground, straight salt goes on the roads up until about -8C or -9C. Once it gets colder, sand is used because salt loses its effectiveness.
“It takes too long to work and activate. Our sand has a small percentage of salt in it. We use that up to -15 and -20. We will then still use our sand but treat it with liquid calcium chloride and get it to stick to the compact ice and snow for really cold temperatures.”
In total there are 13 people on the roads department doing snow removal throughout winter time, which includes parks and street staff.
Six crew members work the day shift and six crew members work the night shift, Monday to Friday. For the weekends, staff are called in overtime if needed.
Additionally, the six utility staff members who work year-round at public works dealing with water and waste water treatment will assist with snow removal when needed.
Public works also has one electrician, three mechanical staff who oversee all the city’s fleet and one coordinator, Cindy Walters.
“Cindy’s our super rockstar who takes in all the inquiries and deals with public phone calls and emails,” Sutherland said.
Outside of work, Sutherland enjoys spending time with his family and exploring what the Cariboo has to offer.
He likes to fish, go camping throughout the summer and shoot basketball hoops with his son.
“I enjoy a round of golf once in a while when I am not frustrated about my score at the end of the day.”