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Joe Poelker

Release Date: 3/25/2013

Snow woes are all in a day's work for St. Anthony's crews

Staute of St. Anthony with snow piled in front

St. Anthony’s campus might be regarded as its own city with 40 acres of asphalt roadway and sidewalks.

St. Anthony’s campus might be regarded as its own city, with numerous buildings and care areas, a power plant, Food and Nutrition Services and a Building Services department that oversees 40 acres of asphalt roadway and sidewalks.

And this city takes inclement weather very seriously, to ensure the safety of its patients, doctors and staff. The work of the Grounds Maintenance and other staff throughout the years has earned St. Anthony’s campus a reputation as one of the first areas to be cleared in the community during snow or ice storms.

These employees have been known to work three eight-hour shifts straight to clear the medical center campus of snow and ice, and often are called in from their homes in the dead of night to salt, plow and shovel. On Monday, March 25, members of the main Grounds Maintenance crew were just heading home at 11:30 a.m. after tackling the Sunday snowfall for more than 12 hours straight, reported Rich Bonk, who heads the main crew.

Because it takes time to get back to the campus, Building Services recently added a measure to tackle adverse conditions as quickly as possible, said Tim Frisbee, supervisor of design and construction in Building Services. When icy or snowy weather begins during the second- or third-shift hours, Frisbee notifies workers in the Maintenance Shop, Clinical Engineering and plant mechanics already on duty at the medical center. They head to the Physicians Office Center garage, where they access a pickup truck with salt sprayer and pallets of bag salt.

“We want to make sure our patients and visitors are safe, and our doctors and our staff,” Frisbee said.

First in line for the de-icer treatment are the front hospital, Emergency Department, Heart and Surgical Pavilion and Physicians Office Center entrances and sidewalks, the doctors’ entrances into the parking garages, and the medical office buildings.
Frisbee and his boss, Building Services director Brad Taylor, follow weather conditions closely during the winter. Forecasted “major events” can turn out to be inconsequential, while predictions of innocuous drizzle can become hazardous storms.
Bonk, an employee since 1980, recalled living on campus for several days straight while tackling the big snowstorm of 1982. He and his co-workers, groundskeepers Tim Simonds and Tom Dengler, are experts in snow and ice removal, with skills honed by years of experience. They operate trucks with large plows attached; a smaller Bobcat with plow; and a few self-propelled, two-stage snow blowers for plowing sidewalks when the situation warrants. The job can be tiring and tedious, and it requires plenty of double-checking to ensure a pedestrian isn’t walking behind the truck. Unlike ordinary street crews, they see plenty of reverse action in the parking lots and cul-de-sacs, and frequently they’re asked to shovel behind car tires in parking lots and give pedestrians lifts to their cars.

After the job is done, they work to keep the salt and calcium chloride from being tracked into the hospital and medical office buildings, by sweeping up or blowing off the excess. They also wash down all the equipment, cleaning it of its corrosive cargo, and oil and service the machinery so it’s ready to roll for the next storm.

At every doorway, they keep white buckets filled with snow-melting chemicals, out of the way of traffic, for Security employees to use at the first sign of inclement weather.

“Rich and his crew, and the maintenance guys, are willing to be called in at all times of the night and day,” Frisbee said. “I live roughly two miles from here: I’m going to make sure I monitor any weather situations closely and act accordingly. But the credit goes to the crews."

It comes with experience:

  • On St. Anthony’s campus, the “best” time for a snowstorm is on Friday nights or after hours, when fewest cars are on the lots. Crews usually work during the wee hours so that the pavement and sidewalks are safe to tread by 8 a.m.
  • Given its choice of demons, the crew prefers snow over ice, any day.
  • Normally, the de-icing process uses magnesium chloride crystals, which do not harm lawns, flowers or wildlife. During bad ice storms, or extremely cold conditions, liquid salt is added to the mix to make it more effective.
  • The crew’s “workhorse” is a one-ton Dodge Ram 3500 dump truck, fitted with a salt dispenser sprayer and large red plow.

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