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Braving the Cold

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City workers outside in frigid weather

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

If you think it’s been bad just going to and from your vehicle in this winter’s frigid weather, think about those who are out in the cold for hours at a time.
Those include the employees of Vandalia’s public works department, who have been exposed to below-zero wind chill temperatures performing both routine and emergencies.
“If you’ve got a water leak, you have got to repair it,” said John Moyer, director of public works. “You can’t put it off until warmer weather.
“With (plowing) snow, that’s different. It’s not as bad because you’re in a truck most of the time.
“With water leaks, you’re going to have to be out in it for probably several hours,” Moyer said on Tuesday morning, right after a crew worked about 3½ hours on a leak.
“And we’ve had nine water main leaks this winter, which is pretty unusual, and we’ve also had leaks on a lot of service lines (from mains to individual water meters),” he said.
“The past five winters or so haven’t been this bad, but this one has been tough because we got all of this snow and high winds, and then it turned really cold for a week,” Moyer said.
In such weather, Moyer can often keep his employees inside performing maintenance on and cleaning equipment.
“We do a lot of in-house work,” he said.
But this is also a time that other, outdoor duties are taken care, such as trimming trees and filling in potholes.
“People think that tree trimming is usually done during warmer months, but there are a lot of other things, such as mowing and oiling roads, that we have to do then,” Moyer said.
One regular chore that has been put off in the frigid weather is reading meters.
“I don’t have guys doing it when it’s really cold, because when you open those covers, you’re exposing the lines to that cold weather and increasing the possibility of lines freezing up,” Moyer said.
When employees are called to repair a water leak, Moyer said, he tries to have workers “take turns in being down in the hole.
“When they get done with the leak, we send those guys who were down in the hole back to the garage and tell them that we (Moyer and Assistant Director Tom Henrichsmeyer) can fill in the hole.
If anyone gets really, really cold, he said, “We try to take care of everybody. If somebody says that they are getting to cold, we tell them to go sit in a truck for a while.
But, Moyer said, that’s rare. The public works employees can tough it out.
“They dress differently. They know they are going to be out and they dress accordingly,” Moyer said.
That winter dress includes special insulated gloves that extend up to the elbows, insulated boots and coveralls.
“We know what to expect and we dress in layers,” Moyer said.
“We’re used to it,” he said.