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An insiders look at Halifax’s snow removal preparations

xBy Jay Lerue

It’s hard to think about anything winter related, particularly when we think about how short the warm months really are. But, nevertheless, it is inevitable that sooner or later, we’re going to once again be caught in winter’s frozen grip.
For this issue, I want to take a look at what is involved with the Halifax Regional Municipality’s snow removal program and some of the ins and outs of what is involved in this overbearing task for the snow and ice removal crews.

For most of us, a heavy snowfall means that we have to wait till the roads are cleared before we can resume doing what we were doing before the storm. But for HRM snow and ice removal crews, it is a situation that is seen from a completely different angle.

To gain further information, I consulted with Mr. Tim DeWolfe, who regularly works for HRM with the sewage department, as a Pump Service Person but works in winter as a “Wing person,” on board one of the many large tandem snow removal trucks. He also drives a one-ton plow, fitted with a salt dispenser.

What a winger does, is operates the auxiliary wing that acts as an extension to the plow, located at the front of the truck. The plow at the front of the truck can only move snow and ice so far. The addition of a side wing ensures that snow and ice is pushed completely to the side of the road, against the curb.
This is a vital and important part of keeping the roads cleared to their proper width and also keeping the catch basins open and clear of obstruction, assisting in proper drainage from rains or snow melt.

The “Winger” is also responsible for assisting the driver/operator with visibility and they communicate regularly with one another, to ensure safety. “Within one hour of a storm starting, all of HRM’s fleet and subsequent contracted plow operators are dispatched,” says Tim. “It’s a huge undertaking, but we get it done within 24 hours, usually,” he says.

“But, it’s not something as simple as getting in a truck and heading out to plow,” he says. “Before we head out, we have to do an extensive and thorough pre-trip inspection of the truck and all its equipment,” he says. “We check the tires, the brakes, horn lights, ensure all current MVI papers are present, make sure we have flares, fire extinguishers, plows and their chains, etc.

When we determine everything is in working order, out we go,” he says. “This is a job with a lot of responsibility and it gets very tiring at times,” says Tim. “Therefore, the restriction is on us to not work for more than 16 hours, where driving and operating machinery is concerned,” he says. According to DeWolfe, the first priority in snow removal is to keep the roads clear for emergency vehicles.

Cleaning up winter’s fun, Halifax style!

“Let’s face it, emergency situations don’t wait for snow to stop falling,” says Tim. “We have to ensure that the police, fire and ambulances can get where they are going,” he says.
But, while Tim says that he enjoys his work with HRM’s snow removal team, there are many things that make his job difficult.
“I can’t stress enough to people that when a storm is raging through, you should stay off the roads till we get everything cleaned up. It’s only common sense, really,” he adds. But it’s not just cars on the roads that Tim is referring to. “I’ve seen people out, walking their dogs in the middle of the road, during a storm,” he says.

What people have to consider is that when they are on the roads, they can get in our way and that raises public safety issues for everyone, including us on board the trucks,” he says. “When visibility is heavily reduced, the middle of the road is the last place anyone should be,” he says sternly.
“The other major problem we encounter is that some people ignore the winter parking ban and leave their cars out on the street.

That really causes us grief when trying to clear your roads and streets,” says DeWolfe. “I can remember during “White Juan,” there were several cars that ended up getting extensive damages, because the owners had left them on the street and plow operators simply couldn’t see them,” he says.

“Anything that a plow comes into contact with is going to bear the brunt of its force,” he adds. Where salting the roads is concerned, one upgrade that has become standard on all snow removal vehicles is a type of regulator, that ultimately restricts an “overflow” of too much salt in a given spot. “This is for environmental and public safety concerns,” says DeWolfe.
“You don’t want too much salt to concentrate in an area,” he says. “The regulator ensures that the salt doesn’t “free fall” he adds.

Where safety is concerned, Tim DeWolfe offers the last word. “All we ask is that people use their better judgment during snow storms,” he says. “Remember not to park overnight on the streets, or walk on the streets during storms.
Also, remember not to pass the snow removal trucks or follow too closely behind us,” he adds. “The smoother that things go for us, the faster your roads and streets are made safe for travel.”

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