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Grounds crew gets down and dirty

Members manicure lawns all day across Gainesville

POSTED: July 15, 2014 1:00 a.m.

A group of three Gainesville employees mow grass at Alta Vista Cemetery. The landscape services crew maintains the cemetery and Lee Gilmer Airport grounds.

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Imagine having 300 acres of grass to cut. Add 14 miles of edging around sidewalks, fertilizing, aerating and weed eating to the list and it describes the job of a landscape services worker for the city of Gainesville.

“We’ve got 3.4 miles of roads in Alta Vista, seven miles of sidewalks, and 15,000 headstones to maintain,” supervisor Tommy Casper said. “With the airport, it’s close to 300 acres to maintain.”

The landscape services crew, which varies in size with full-time and part-time workers, spends every day in the summer heat to maintain Alta Vista Cemetery and Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport’s grounds.

“We try to cut the grass once a week in both places,” Casper said. “There are days where all we do is weed eat around every headstone, and that’s especially tough.”

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, outdoor workers in fields such as agriculture, construction and other jobs are exposed to a large amount of heat stress that may lead to severe illness or death. That means the landscape crew must take special measures to beat the heat.

To begin with, the group starts its day in the early morning hours to avoid the hottest part of the day.

“We start at 6:30 a.m. to beat the heat,” Casper said. “We finish by 3 p.m., and we are constantly preaching to the guys to take an extra few minutes here and there to get some more to drink.”

The city also provides shorts and pants as a uniform for the men. And while many days shorts are appropriate, pants are better when weed eating, which increases the heat level.

The crew has three scheduled breaks throughout the shift but is encouraged to spend time in the shade or cool as needed.

“We have a midmorning, lunch and afternoon break,” Casper said. “We keep water on hand all the time. If you wait until you’re thirsty, it’s too late.”

At the cemetery and airport, the men work in sections to divide the workload.

“My favorite part is the sense of accomplishment you get when you get everything done,” said Lee Wood, a 62-year-old retired U.S. Marine and the newest member of the team. “That’s just my nature.”

But a sense of determination to finish can sometimes be detrimental when it gets too hot. Therefore, Casper sometimes has to encourage his crew to take breaks more frequently despite not having a section finished.

“When they get started, they want to finish,” he said. “So, sometimes we have to make them stop.”

Casper also does his best as the supervisor to make sure no one works by himself and usually has four workers in one group. The men then can look out for each other.

“We have a very good team,” Wood said. “Everyone watches for each other and we have a structure for the day where it makes it go faster.”

Crew members also get along well, according to Casper, and know enough about each other to see signs of weakness.

Dallas Elrod, 54, is a veteran crew member with diabetes. He said he knows himself and his teammates well enough to see when breaks are needed.

“I try to drink plenty of fluids and take hourly breaks,” Elrod said. “I carry everything with me. I know if I start wobbling I need to take a break.”

Another advantage the crew has is a variety of training from past jobs, such as Wood’s time as a Marine.

“I have some training with different types of heat injuries,” Wood said. “I’ve been taught how to treat them. The key is staying hydrated.”


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