A Dawson Road Maintenance employee is making a habit of coming to the aid of motorists in distress, proving that there’s more to winter road maintenance than plowing, salting, and sanding the province’s highways and roads.
Grant Gray, who has been with Dawson for 15 years and works out of the Ashcroft yard, has twice come to the aid of motorists who have gone off the road, most recently 10 days before Christmas 2022.
Gray was plowing his regular route along Loon Lake Road, halfway between Cache Creek and Clinton off Highway 97. It can be a challenging road for drivers: winding and narrow, its has steep banks that run down to the lake, and there is a constant threat of wildlife straying out of the bushes that line the road in many places.
It had been snowing that day, but Gray, who knows the road and its challenges well, says that it was business as usual during his first pass along the road, heading east.
“I didn’t see anything heading out there. On my way back, I noticed some skid marks that swerved off the road. I slowed down to check it out and I could see a car in the lake,” Gray said later in an article for Dawson Road Maintenance.
He ran down the embankment, calling out to the car in the hope that he’d hear someone respond. The car was flipped upside down, not too far from the shore but with the front half of the vehicle submerged.
“Once I got closer, I could see someone struggling to kick the driver’s window out,” said Gray. “I quickly looked around and found a rock big enough to smash one of the windows and help the woman exit the vehicle. She was cold, wet, and very scared.”
Gray estimated that the woman had been trapped in her vehicle for anywhere up to 25 minutes, figuring that the car – whose driver swerved to avoid a deer while she was on her way home from work – went into the lake shortly after he had initially passed that section with the plow.
He assisted her up the slope and into his plow truck, then notified his supervisor and an operator in Clinton about the incident. He then proceeded to drive the woman to her house, which was nearby, and was thanked profusely for his efforts before he headed back to the Ashcroft shop.
Gray was, understandably, slightly shaken up by the event.
“It was a scary sight when I first got there; I didn’t see any movement. In road maintenance, you always want to do what you think is right. Looking back at it now, I didn’t realize how dangerous the situation could have been. I am very thankful that everything turned out relatively well,” he said.
The Loon Lake incident was a case of déjà vu for Gray, who — 14 years ago — experienced a similar situation when he was patrolling Highway 99 near Timian Creek. A truck was driving towards him when it turned a corner and lost control on a patch of ice, sliding over the side of the road.
Gray safely pulled over, made his way down the slope, and began talking to the driver, making sure they were okay and able to move on their own. On that occasion, the driver was able to exit the vehicle on their own, and Gray helped them climb the steep bank. He let the driver warm up and calm down in his truck while they waited for emergency crews to arrive.
“I’ve known and worked with Grant for about 14 years, and he has excellent work habits, is always punctual and diligent, and is a leader to the crews he works with,” says David Rhodes, Manager of Operations, Dawson Road Maintenance, which is extraordinarily proud of Gray for rescuing citizens from extremely dangerous situations.
Rhodes notes that Dawson’s drivers are in a good position to see signs of unusual vehicle behaviour, especially in winter when it’s been snowing.
“Even if it’s just snowing one centimetre an hour, as a plow truck driver when you’re plowing a road you’ll see the fresh tracks in the snow where a vehicle has gone off the road, but you might not see the vehicle, and you won’t notice it so much when the weather is good.
“But operators are aware of these things and will spot them, and occasionally they’ll be the first person on the scene when something like that happens.”
Rhodes says that Dawson drivers have twice-yearly full training days — one for summer, one for winter — to learn about what sorts of things they might expect to encounter.
“If they’re first on the scene of a motor vehicle incident where there might be injuries, they have access to professional help.”
He adds that some of the events drivers might encounter could be difficult to manage. “We have really good resources for crews, and WorkSafe has good resources. We have internal training and professional support afterward.
“We’ve all driven by crash scenes, and maybe it’s just a car in a ditch, but the people right there dealing with it — whether it’s first responders or an equipment operator — have to have support in managing it after.”
Gray is glad that neither of the accidents he encountered had a more severe outcome.
“You never want to see anyone in those situations. But I have been very fortunate that neither one of those situations had anyone severely hurt.”
With files from Dawson Road Maintenance