Snowplow drivers must answer to nature, whatever the hour

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Snowplow by road

Morgan Womack

Public and private snowplow operators must respond at any hour — and keep working for many.

Snowplow drivers across the Lansing area started up their trucks to clear off the roads after hearing the snow emergency declaration on Feb. 1. When forecasts like these come to the city of Lansing, city drivers can work up to 16-hour shifts with only eight hours off in between.

Jeremiah Kilgore is the city of Lansing’s infrastructure superintendent of operations and maintenance. He said after hearing the forecast of the snowstorm, his team got to work.

“We started prepping trucks, getting plow trucks cycled, making sure they were loaded for ballast for weight, any issues we had for repairs we got over to our fleet services, and they repaired them all so that we were ready to go equipment-wise when the storm actually hit us.”

Jeremiah Kilgore

The City of Lansing has a snowplow map where the public can see the status of local roads. Each plow has its own name, which was decided in a previous contest by the public.

“I think it’s good for (the public) to see the progress we’re making, the timeliness,” Kilgore said. “We put out updates showing when we’re gonna be (there) or that we’re on a route and it’s started so they know when they’re gonna be plowed out.”

Ronald Lacasse, infrastructure administrator for the City of East Lansing said the snow emergency declaration helped restrict parking on streets, making it easier for sanitation routes and snow removal operations. 

Lacasse said winter is the most unpredictable time of year for infrastructure administration. Without a forecast storm, it can be tough on staff who are called in at the last minute.

“Our crews just get called in spur of the moment at 2 in the morning and they have to get up and come into work and treat that,” Lacasse said. “That’s a challenging time because they can’t plan their sleep schedule and get rest beforehand. When you get called in, you have to provide the service.”

Nathan Fox, owner of snow removal business Foxscapes, schedules and dispatches crews. He said scheduled forecasts offer more time to plan, but flexibility is important in case of surprise weather events.

“I’m also in a truck bouncing in between crews, trying to help out when it’s needed and just trying to keep the main roads open.”

Nathan Fox

Fox said the balance between work and life can be difficult as a plow driver.

“It’s a lifestyle to be a plow truck driver,” Fox said. “Because from Nov. 15 to April 15 it is your No. 1 priority. Whether you have a family event or not, the plowing comes first.”

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