County Road Crews Work Round-The-Clock To Clear Snow From Roads
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
When the snow starts falling and most of Greene County is scrambling to get home before the roads turn to a sheet of snow and ice, local road crews are doing just the opposite.
The Greene County Highway Department sends employees out to clean up roads in the very worst of conditions, day and night.
At times, employees even act as first responders, taking calls from emergency personnel and being first to arrive on the scene of an accident.
In such situations, road crews work to quickly clear a path through the ice and snow so that law enforcement officers, fire departments and ambulances can safely respond.
"When [the emergency agencies] get a call out there, they call us," Greene County Highway Department Administrative Assistant Gary Ricker said Wednesday in an interview.
"They know the situation, too, and they know they can't get there unless we help them."
Highway Department Superintendent David Weems said Ricker is one of two top supervisors at the department who handle the night shift. Two other foremen cover the day shift. Weems tries to be on hand for parts of both shifts.
Ricker, a 29-year employee of the department, helps split the approximately 70 employees into two shifts, laying out routes for each.
This around-the-clock coverage and emergency response kicks in during snowstorms, floods and tornadoes, Ricker said.
As he sat down for an interview with The Greeneville Sun on Wednesday, Weems had had about three hours of sleep. He came in to work around 7 a.m. on Tuesday, went home to sleep for just a few hours around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, and was still at the Highway Department late that same evening.
It was, essentially, a 36-hour shift with a three-hour break.
"Whatever hours it takes, I'm going to spend here," Weems said.
"I'm not going to ask or expect my guys to do something that I'm not willing to do myself. I don't have a problem putting on my boots and working with them."
At least one other employee, Shop Supervisor Rankin Gregg, chose to stay through the entire 36-hour-cycle without any break.
He said he thought it best to keep working instead of trying to nap and head back onto the job.
In response to this week's snowstorms, crews have been keeping the county's eight plow trucks, six spreaders and two road-graders running -- and inspecting and lubricating them between every shift.
"I would like to brag on all my men for all their dedication and hard work in trying to clear the county roads, spending the time necessary to try to accomplish this task," Weems said.
"Without all their hard work, I couldn't [accomplish it]; it takes a team effort to get the job done."
With this storm, as with all others, the department prioritized main roads (such as Snapps Ferry Road, Horton Highway, Gap Creek Road and West Allens Bridge Road), salting them first, as well as salting roads for nursing homes and individuals who are sick and may be in need of an ambulance.
The county does not treat roadways within municipalities (Baileyton, Greeneville, Mosheim or Tusculum), nor does the county department treat state routes (Erwin Highway, Newport Highway, Asheville Highway, etc.).
It took at least three rounds of salt -- two on Tuesday and one on Wednesday -- before the department was able to see enough improvement on the main roads to begin scraping and then salting the secondary roads, Weems said.
Complicating the problem was the extreme cold, the second round of snowfall on Tuesday, and the fact that the snow was countywide.
The department laid both block dust (fine gravel) and salt to increase traction since the cold kept the salt from melting the ice.
So far this year, Weems said the county has laid about 700 tons of salt across approximately 600 miles of roads.
Salt costs the county about $81 per ton, he noted. Although the county started the year with a full 1,000-ton stockpile, he has had to replenish at least 250 tons and will need to pick up more this week.
The annual salt budget of $25,000 simply won't get the department through the winter, he said.
Despite facing these challenges and being extremely short on sleep, both Weems and his employees were friendly and quick to laugh during the interview on Wednesday.
"Sometimes [a long shift] happens and we've got to do it," Gregg said. "I enjoy getting out and helping the public."
"This is the wrong job to be in if you didn't," Ricker added,
"I think everyone here is dedicated to their job and service to the public," Weems said, bragging on his men.
"We all know in our service to the public that it's long days and short nights. We go on a little bit of sleep to do what needs to be done."