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On the road with city snowplow drivers
March 3, 2014

Things to think about regarding snow safety this winter

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

DELANO, MN – Thirty-two miles of streets, two miles of alleys, 7.3 miles of trails, and 51 cul-de-sacs are what the Delano Public Works Department is responsible for clearing following major snowfalls.

Public works employee Tim Matter, who has been with the city since May 2006, explained there are four phases in the city’s plowing efforts.

“Priority” streets include near the schools, in the business community and downtown area, the industrial park, and the city’s feeder streets.

Even though there are 32 miles of street the city’s public works staff maintain, each of the three primary plow drivers put on about 60 miles per snowstorm as each road gets three passes.

“One down the middle, and then one on each side of the street,” Matter said.

The public works department divides the city into three zones – north, south, and west, with each having a dedicated route driver. Matter is responsible for the “south” side of town, Tim Schrupp the “north” side, and Mike Huncha the “west” side.

Matt Matter is responsible for cul-de-sacs, and Paul Swearingen responsible for the downtown area. Before each driver begins his shift, generally at 2 a.m. the morning following a snowfall, a safety inspection is conducted on the plows and equipment.

Tim Matter said it is important for each driver to know his truck and equipment, as each is set up differently. Valuable pieces of equipment kept in each plow truck are shovels – yes, snowplows get stuck, and yes, they need to be shoveled out.

One way plow drivers reduce the chance of getting stuck is by keeping the back of their trucks filled with the salt/sand mixture for additional weight. Matter said it is typical practice to sand/salt the intersections as the drivers go, and then sand/salt the rest of the streets from the farthest point on the route back to the city’s shop.

The average speed of a snowplow that is actively plowing snow is 15 to 18 miles per hour. Matter said the department makes efforts to not turn around in residents’ driveways. He encourages drivers to keep their distance from snowplows, and be aware that debris can fly from the trucks and equipment.

Another area becoming a priority for the public works department is clearing the city’s trails and walking paths.

“As people become more active, they have become a much bigger part of our jobs,” Matter said.

The city’s snow season parking runs Nov. 1 to April 1. Vehicles (and trailers) cannot be parked on any street, avenue, or alley between the hours of 2 and 7 a.m. This is regulated by city ordinance and enforced by Wright County. It is not uncommon to see snowplow drivers from Wright County, Franklin Township, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation in and around Delano following a snowfall.

Tim Matter said the snow and rain/ice that fell a few weeks back on a Thursday night and into Friday morning was the worst he had seen in three years.

He said the heavy snowfall this winter has brought the area has led to several safety concerns for the public works department while out tending to the city’s streets.

One of the concerns arising this winter season is snow tunnels made that lead to the streets.

“It’s a nightmare for all of us out on the streets,” Matter said. “The worst thing that could happen would be to see a hat pop out of a hole in the snow when we’re out plowing.”

Matter explained plows always turn and plow to the right, and said with one pass from the plow, a tunnel could easily be plowed in – and anyone inside may lose their escape route.

The large snowbanks along city streets are tempting for children to make snow forts, but the city urges children to make snow forts close to the house and not in the snowbanks along city streets, according to a release from the City of Delano.

“By playing next to the street, children could get hit by a snowplow or the snowplow can bury the children while playing in the fort,” according to the release. “Plow drivers cannot see kids playing until it’s too late.”

“It’s actually one of the worst aspects of the job,” Matter added. One thing that helps is when property owners stake the curb so plow drivers know exactly where the street ends and the curb begins.

“That saves on their lawns,” he said.

Matter said another issue citywide is the clearing of fire hydrants in the community. The Delano Fire Department urges residents to clean out hydrants near homes or businesses.

Retired Delano Fire Department Captain Gary Zitzloff said with all of the snow this year, many of the fire hydrants have gone missing.

“They are actually buried underneath all of that snow,” Zitzloff said. “This would be a great time for everyone to pitch in and help us out.”

The fire department does a great job in teaching kids about stop, drop, and roll; having a safe meeting place, and changing the batteries in smoke detectors, but very little gets said about the importance of keeping the area around the hydrants cleared of snow, he said.

Valuable time can be lost on saving a house or business, or worse yet, a life, because of a blocked fire hydrant, Zitzloff said.

“A cleared hydrant also helps out in the event of a fire outside of the city limits,” he said. “If there is a big fire in the ‘country,’ we still need to get water out there to put it out. Instead of driving a truck all the way back into town, we’ll use the first available hydrant we find, closest to the scene, to fill our trucks. This is a tremendous time saver.”

The United States Postal Service (USPS) also has guidelines about where mailboxes are placed to ensure carriers can safely get to the mailboxes in all weather.

The USPS recommends putting a roadside mailbox where a carrier can safely reach inside without leaving the truck. That means positioning it about 41” to 45” off the ground and back about 6” to 8” from the curb.

In the absence of a raised curb, contact your local postmaster for guidance.

Year-round, the USPS encourages residents to keep obstructions away from mailboxes.

“Your carrier may not deliver your mail if there’s a car, shrub, snowdrift, or unfriendly dog in front of it,” according to the USPS. “Your mailbox takes a serious beating from the weather, especially in the winter. We suggest a routine mailbox check-up every spring.”

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