Blair divides and conquers snow and ice
The city of Blair, Neb., is no stranger to snow, and its efficient approach to handling inclement weather and ensuring the safety of residents is evidence of its familiarity.
The city has 15 pieces of snow equipment that are available to the public works department for snow and ice control. The equipment consists of dump trucks with sanders and plows, pickups with plows, a front end loader, a loader backhoe, snow blowers and graders. Once the first inch of snow settles on the ground, the dozen or so personnel dedicated to snow removal get to work.
“Once the first inch of snow is on the city streets, the streets department supervisor starts contacting the staff within this department along with the utility supervisor who contacts their staff to mobilize for snow and ice control operations,” public works Director Allen Schoemaker said. “Depending on the weather forecast for how long the snow event will last determines how many staff are brought in right away versus splitting up the staff. Snow events that hit the 12-hour mark are the determining factor on this decision.”
Once the crews are mobilized, the topography of the city is taken into consideration when assigning where each person should go.
“The city is split into four zones with staff and equipment assigned to each zone,” Schoemaker said. “The equipment assigned to the zone is determined based on the challenges for the zone. Blair is unique in Nebraska as we have both fl at and hilly areas within the city, which provide different challenges for the snow and ice operations.”
A combination of white and red salt along with sand is used for treating roadways. When the mixture is distributed on the streets, crews spray the substance with liquid salt mixed with Geomelt to help the paved surfaces thaw evenly and quickly.
As with fleet operations across the country, the city of Blair faces its fair share of challenges.
“We are challenged with keeping and maintaining qualified and experienced staff for our snow and ice operations,” Schoemaker said. “We are like many cities with an aging workforce; however, we have been able to backfill the positions with new staff that the supervisor spends many hours with training them on snow and ice control operations.”
When new staff member are put into the fi eld, they work with experienced operators who provide oversight and assistance to them as needed to allow them to gain the experience needed to become quality employees within the city’s snow and ice control program.
Part of learning the job is learning the maintenance of the snow removal machines. While kept mostly in pristine condition, the equipment faces a lot of natural wear and tear through the years. Schoemaker has devised a system that allows the city to replace machinery when needed in order to maintain safety and efficiency while also keeping economic impact of those large purchases in mind.
“We have a life cycle for each piece of equipment in our fleet,” he explained. “As an example, dump trucks and loaders are replaced every 10 years while pickups are replaced every seven years, and the system continues from there. I work with the city administration and the city council to identify the pieces of equipment that are coming up for replacement to help with funding cycles to try to avoid a large burden on any one year’s fiscal year budget. Using this practice allows the city to maintain its snow ice control equipment and meet the expectations of the community.”
The most challenging and important part of his job, Schoemaker said, is balancing fiscal responsibility in the short term in order to better prepare for the long term.
“Be realistic in what is needed and what is wanted. Make sure everything planned has an eye to fiscal impact to the decision both for short term and long term,” he advised. “Work with administration and elected officials to make sure they understand the cost of the service. We solicit input from both administration, elected officials and especially the public as to the level of service expected for the community so we can deliver accordingly.”
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