Christian Thamerus adjusts his blade while plowing the streets of Williams Lake on Monday afternoon. Tara Sprickerhoff photos

Snowplows doing their best with record breaking snowfall

The Tribune goes for a ridealong in a City of Williams Lake plow truck

There’s another snowfall warning, and that means one thing for the equipment operators at the streets and parks division of the City of Williams Lake: work.

On Monday afternoon, snow plows were on their second shift of the day, heading out to continue to clear roads throughout the city.

The Tribune headed out in a plow truck with equipment operation Christian Thamerus, who has worked with the City of Williams Lake clearing snow in the winter for the past 15 years.

Once out of the public works yard on Second Avenue, Thamerus turns right and pushes up Gibbon Street towards the Cariboo Memorial Hospital. It’s priority number one, and known as the emergency route. The first plow after any given snow event will take that route

He passes by the hospital, heads up Johnston Street to the highway and then pulls a U-turn at the Carson and Broadway intersection and makes sure the other side of the road is clear.

With the roads clear for ambulances and emergency equipment, Thamerus then joins the four other city plows to clear out the rest of the city streets.

Read more: Sunday’s snowfall in Williams Lake breaks 1960 record

The city is divided into five different routes that the equipment operators are responsible for on any given day. One truck will take each one.

The “highside,” north of Broadway Avenue above Highway 97; the “westside” that includes South Lakeside and Westridge; the downtown core; the residential division north of Comer Avenue that includes Western and Pigeon; and the Mackenzie trucking route that goes from the Husky through to 168 Mile Road.

“Sometimes, it’s incredible how much snow there is,” said Thamerus, who was on call and worked through the weekend.

“Sometimes, by the time you finish your route you can’t even tell you were there.”

It’s kind of like doing laundry. You finally get the laundry folded and before you know it the basket is full again.

The priorities, after the emergency route, are paved roads. Once they get those done, and provided there hasn’t been any extra snowfall, they’ll clear back alleys, which is what Thamerus was doing on Monday afternoon.

Thamerus packs his truck with a load of sand to make sure drivers have traction on the roads, before setting off on his route for the afternoon on Monday.

“I think 360 degrees all the time, no matter what time it is because sometimes people are just in a hurry and rush in theses conditions,” he said, backing up along Oliver Street to make sure some side streets that had received complaints were clear.

Thamerus’s vehicle is essentially a dump truck. Before heading out, he loads the bucket with whatever they are using on the streets that day: sand, salt, or a mix of the two. Salt doesn’t work in temperatures below -11, so sometimes they are limited with what they use, and before he loads it Thamerus filters the sand through a device that breaks up the clumps and clears out large rocks.

Once on the road, a conveyor in the bucket helps distribute the gravel behind the plow, which is installed under the truck itself. Thamerus can control the angle of the blade, which he sees in a mirror so that it pushes show out of the way, or lets smaller amounts go at a time.

But, with another snowfall warning on the way, that can mean that the clearance of parking spots may take the back seat.

Read more: Winter storm warning issued for the B.C. Interior

In a normal situation, once the five main routes are clear, equipment operators will then work on clearing sidewalk, laneways, and parking lots. Then, crews will clear parking spaces along the sides of businesses, but before they can do that they have to prep the streets for snow blowing by moving the snow that is currently on the side of the street into the middle of the road.

To clear downtown, it can take a full shift of 12 dump trucks running in tandem through the night to clear the snow out of downtown, and that can’t be done until the snow stops falling.

Until then, the main priority is to keep the roads clear.

‘With these events it’s important for safety reasons because people need to drive,” said Thamerus. While he works with the city during the summer as well, he said this is often the most important job the crews will do because of the safety aspect.

“Safety is number one for us, for people and for our drivers.”

It’s sometimes a thankless job for the snowplow operators. Be assured your calls to City Hall do get some traction, as they are able to direct snowplows to do a second pass at different roads in the area.

The blade as seen from by the driver. Thamerus monitors it pretty closely as he is driving to make sure the snow is not sticking and is always being pushed off the road.

Thamerus said he is aware that he is sometimes pushing snow in the way of driveways, but he doesn’t have much of a choice.

“That’s how it works, there is not much we can do about it. We are responsible for the streets, we have to make them clear.”

He said he does try to go slowly past driveways so there isn’t as much snow there, and feels badly for seniors who don’t have a way to clear their driveway, but until the snow stops falling there isn’t much they can do.

Sometimes even Thamerus gets stuck. On Monday, clearing out a laneway, the accumulation of snow meant that Thamerus had to take a second run at the alley. Occasionally, he said, he’ll have to get out and put chains on his tires.

While the city doesn’t have a full staff crew working on weekends, the on-call person will make decisions to call people in based on how much snow is falling. Thamerus, who was on last weekend, called people in for shifts on both Saturday and Sunday. By Monday, they were still doing basic snow removal.

The crews work in two shifts, one from 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 and a second from 3:30 to midnight.

“It’s not too bad. I like it because every day is different. You are confronted with different things. Every day is different, every shift is different. You make decisions dependent on what is out there.”

Thamerus said the crews work as a team, and do their best to keep everyone happy.

He urges drivers to try and stay 30 m back from the plow tucks, to try not to leave their garbage out in front of their houses for too long, and, if they can, not to park in the streets.

Read more: Vehicles parked on streets blocking snow removal

“If you see three trucks, just stay away and please use a different route. We are busy too and we are just trying to do our jobs.”

He also urges drivers to drive safely. He works with the fire department and said he received at least five MVI calls between Saturday and Monday.

“All could have been prevented if you drive for the road conditions.”

For the rest of the week, he said crews will be doing their best to keep up with the snowfall and keep the roads clear.”

“Right now we’re still in the clean up process to get everything to clear and hopefully not get the snowfall again. That is priority number 1.”


@Tspricker
tara.sprickerhoff@wltribune.com

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