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Workers battle cold to keep Gainesville functioning

POSTED: January 7, 2014 11:36 p.m.

Many outdoor workers were excused from having to toil in low temperatures Tuesday, but others braved the single digits — including Gainesville public works crews — to maintain the city.

Gainesville Public Works Director David Dockery said solid waste and street maintenance crews were out working by 7 a.m. in freezing temperatures.

“Our street department has a staff of 30 and for everyone in that division, with the exception of a secretary and shopkeeper, it’s pretty much a field job,” Dockery said. “Even the field manager spends a good deal out in the field, overlooking, supervising, so we have about 28 positions in the street division that would be out working (Tuesday).”

Solid waste also maintained daily operations, he said.

“Of course, our solid waste runs pickup service. We run that every day if the roads are passable, so they’re running today,” Dockery said.

But even some jobs just shouldn’t be done in sub-zero wind chill temperatures, he said.

“It’s too cold to be pouring concrete or doing asphalt work — doing anything like that,” he said.

Typically, that’s a job reserved for 40-degree and higher days, he said.

“We just don’t want to have the guys outside for that long a time, so we’re not doing it today with this kind of weather,” Dockery said.

Street crews back from eight-hour shifts warmed up at the Alta Vista Road offices in the afternoon.

“We didn’t want to spend a lot of time outside the truck if we could help it,” crew member Robert Jones said.

The crews keep storm drains clear to prevent flooding, although some were simply inaccessible because of the freeze, he said.

“There would be piles of leaves frozen on drains that we just could not move,” Jones said.

Ken Perguson noted their job is all the more important when weather is bad.

“The worse the weather, the more we have to do,” he said.

Providing workers the necessary gear to endure the weather is taken “very seriously,” Dockery said.

“We outfit our guys with protective outerwear — tell them (to) layer up,” Dockery said. “We provide insulated gloves; we provide boots. They even have insulated liners for hard hats when they need them, so they’re pretty well prepared for working in cold.”

Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle said he was relieved there weren’t more calls stemming from the unusual lows, citing the expected increase in space heater use as a potential fire hazard.

“I was expecting some havoc last night, and lucky enough we didn’t see that,” Cagle said early Tuesday evening.

“It’s been calm this afternoon. Most of the calls today were in reference to busted pipes and sprinkler systems, and the reason for that is you have the record cold temperatures reveal pipes that were exposed to the elements and they weren’t properly sealed or closed off.”

Crews did respond to trees that came down, mostly because of high winds, he said.

“We did run calls on a couple of trees down, mostly due to the wind this morning,” Cagle said.

Jackson EMC experienced scattered outages throughout its 10-county service area, which includes parts of Hall, Lumpkins, Banks, Jackson and other counties south and east of Hall.

Around 1,800 customers were out of service between 3 and 5 a.m., which dropped to around 500 at 9 a.m. and fell to around 70 customers just before 5 p.m., spokeswoman Bonnie Jones said.

The outages were mainly the result of equipment malfunctions in fuses and transformers due to the high electrical demand, she said.

Dockery said traffic maintenance teams were ready to respond to any wind-related outages, which can “wreak havoc.”

“Those guys are in the shop today just performing routine upkeep and maintenance, but they get called if a traffic signal is malfunctioning,” he said.

The works members who were out said they were grateful leaf cleanup had reached its dwindling days, helping them move quickly through the chill.

Whatever the weather, Dockery said, his department strives to provide services in tougher temperatures.

“We’ll limit our exposure outdoors as much as reasonably possible and still get the job done,” he said.


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