This winter has dumped snow, ice and bitter cold temperatures on the region – leaving residents huddled in their homes or digging their way out of mounds of snow.
While some have had the good fortune of being able to work from home or stay off the roads when the weather is at its worst, some jobs must go on regardless of what conditions are like outside.
“This winter has been one of the worst we have had in a long time considering the amount of snow combined with the extreme freezing temperatures,” said Capt. Nick Fanelli of the Schererville Fire Department.
Simply getting vehicles out of the station is a challenge, he said, adding that a snow plow, snow blower and many hand shovels they use lead to a secondary problem.
“The challenge this year has been figuring out where to put all the snow,” Fanelli said. “We can’t block our bay doors and need to leave enough room for the engines to maneuver.”
Once they get on the road, snow and ice present dangerous safety concerns for employees – from slick road surfaces to limited space to maneuver due to snow build ups.
“The very high piles of snow block or reduce our view when trying to make sure the intersections are clear before entering,” he said.
Once they get on scene, the snow and ice limit firefighters’ and medics’ ability to access patients or fire scenes.
“It is especially hard for our ambulance crews to get the cot in and out of the patient’s house,” Fanelli said. “At times, we send extra manpower to mainly help with snow removal so the crew can safely transport our patients.”
With some of the coldest days ever recorded recently, this year’s winter has also been a challenge for NIPSCO crews.
Kathleen Szot, external communications manager with NIPSCO’s Communications and Public Affairs department, said the company has experienced an increase in the amount of poles hit by vehicles due to slippery conditions.
“Avoiding frostbite has been an important focus for our crews also in light of the extremely harsh temperatures that affected northern Indiana,” she said.
Crews have worked around the clock to keep the power on for residents – something that is especially important in dangerously cold temperatures, Szot said. This winter has also caused some staff to take on different assignments.
“By tracking weather forecasts daily, we can ensure we are prepared to respond to emergencies by adding staff where we expect there to be a greater need,” she said.
Brett Batema, president of trucking company MLT Providers, said his crews have had difficulty transporting numerous shipments of ice melt and portable heaters to customers in need.
“This is a busy time of the year to be shipping heaters and ice melt, but this year I would say we have transported two to three times our normal value,” he said. “One of the biggest challenges is trying to get the product to them in a timely manner.”
Many businesses on the East Coast and in the Midwest are out of ice melt, and MLT Providers picks up these shipments from Salt Lake City with transit time of two to five days – in good weather.
“We get several calls a day asking when the driver will be able to make his delivery,” Batema said. “The weather has caused delays and kept many drivers down south, causing a shortage of available drivers.”
Deliveries also are backing up at delivery terminals – where the weather has been an issue for workers as well.
“Drivers are calling off because they are snowed in and can’t get to work,” he said. “Some freight left outdoors is either covered in snow or ice, and can’t be moved.”
Most customers have been understanding, Batema said, knowing the weather has placed extra burdens on employees.
For Fanelli, even the simplest act of putting on clothes in the morning or before a fire call can have serious consequences when working in the winter elements.
“Just like when we go into a fire, our uniforms and turnout gear do not make us invincible from the elements,” he said.
Another issue is making sure firefighters keep dry so they don’t freeze.
“This is obviously a hard task because we are using water to put out the fire,” he said. “Our gear will freeze, become stiff and limit our mobility.”
Like many workers across the region, Fanelli said he’s looking forward to the opportunity to stop spending countless hours dealing with the snow and focusing on more important agendas.
“Spring cannot come soon enough,” he said.