Snowstorms Have City Fleets Working Overtime

February 2011, Government Fleet - WebXclusive

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

Fleet maintenance employees at the City of Huntsville, Ala.,were on 24-hour duty during a mid-January snowstorm. (Photo courtesy Mike Blankenship, City of Huntsville)

The season's snowstorms have hit various regions across the country hard, and government agencies worked clear roads and ensure resident safety. Recent blizzards have affected many regions in the U.S., causing record snowfall and bringing snow to regions that normally see very light snowfall. A New York snowstorm Jan. 26-27 left New York City blanketed with 19 inches of snow. The storm forced the City to shut down schools and interrupted bus and subway services, according to the NY Daily News.

On the fleet maintenance side, fleet departments seem to have it under control, with public sector fleet divisions working to make sure they equip city vehicles properly and maintain snow equipment to keep roads usable. From obtaining state assistance in snowplowing efforts, to increasing technician hours, to temporarily going from a one-shift maintenance facility to 24-hour duty, three municipal fleets discuss their methods for dealing with the season's snowstorms.

Business as Usual in Chicago

A historic snowstorm dumped 20.2 inches of snow in Chicago the first week of February, the City's third heaviest snowfall ever recorded. National Weather Service data show record snowfall of 6.6 inches on Feb. 2. Various news sources reported school closures, air flight cancellations, and roof damage, including an incident where part of the roof of Wrigley Field broke away.

Three collisions on Lake Shore Drive on Feb. 1 led to stopped traffic on the drive, and rapid snow accumulation, high winds, and impassable off-ramps resulted in hundreds of vehicles stuck and/or abandoned. The City closed Lake Shore Drive that night, and Police and Fire personnel worked to move drivable cars and provide assistance to motorists while Streets and Sanitation worked to tow cars and plow and salt the road where possible, according to releases from the City. The street was reopened early Feb. 3.

Despite full use of all available snowfighting equipment, the City's Fleet Management on Feb. 3 reported business as usual. "We prepare our snow equipment in advance of the storm, so at this point, everything is out on the street working for the blizzard we just encountered," said Eileen Joyce, public information officer for fleet management.

City officials were preparing for the predicted blizzard days before the event and kept residents informed with updates during the storm. The Department of Streets and Sanitation was utilizing its full fleet of 274 trucks, plus 120 garbage trucks with quick-hitch plows attached, to help keep streets clear. By Feb. 5, the City was using 525 pieces of equipment for snowfighting, and two days later, this number had increased to 864 pieces of equipment for snow-clearing efforts, including 174 snow trucks, 300 pieces of heavy equipment, and 390 garbage trucks, according to the City.

Fleet Management, which normally operates two eight-hour shifts, increased its technicians' hours at nine of its facilites. Technicians came in four hours early or stayed four hours later, which, according to Joyce, is normal practice annually from November to April at its two airport maintenance locations. "We're still keeping up with everything, so that [Streets and Sanitation workers] still have a full complement of their equipment out there working clearing snow, so we have not had any problems maintenance-wise," Joyce said.

The City operates fourteen total fleet facilities.

"We've actually had a very uneventful maintenance [period], besides the added hours," Joyce said on Feb. 3.

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