Why All of West Hartford's Streets Weren't Plowed Saturday Night

A message from Director of Public Works John Phillips.

The following message regarding why plowing was interrupted was received from Director of Public Works John Phillips at 7:11 p.m. on Saturday. "I just don’t know how else to explain the duration of time it takes to meet the expectations of my valued residents," he said.

Tonight I had to make the hard choice and call off 90 percent of my drivers. Their life safety after being at this for 36 straight hours is more important than the streets we just couldn’t get to today. The guys were on edge, full of stress and I could see the physical fatigue in their eyes. I could not live with myself if something happened to them because I pushed too hard. I’m not in Iraq any longer.

I’m sure several thousand residents think I’m incompetent tonight. It came down to the life safety of my operators and the public that shares the road with them vs. leaving a street unplowed for 8 more hours (We will be back at 100 percent staff at 3 a.m.) I do have four troopers sticking it out for true emergencies and the rapid response to clear the road for such calls.

I feel bad but it’s the right thing to do.

Here is a quick summary of what we do beginning with your street plow operation:

We have 30 plow routes to cover the 215 miles of road. We have 21 professional snow and ice control operators with associated specialized equipment.

Each road mile typically require 4 to 6 pass to clear one time. We can plow our routes several times during a large snow event. We rely on 10 subcontractors.

Local snow plow operating is truly a developed skill set that not everyone in the commercial driver arena posses. Quality subs are hard to come by. Subcontracting out this type of work is a calculated risk compared to having to pay the salaries and benefits of a  year round plow operator workforce just to plow/de-ice snow 17 times a year on average. We have four operations managers to cover 21 square miles.

Snow plow operating is very rigorous work. The physical and metal demand it takes to be a plow truck driver is difficult to explain to anyone who has never experienced it or tried it  for themselves.

A high level of multi-tasking take place in the cabs of those 60,000 lb trucks pushing a 2.5 ton chunk of steel on a imperfect surface with a contantly changing geography (buried in a non-contrasting blanket of fresh white snow).

They are required to operate a truck with levers for plows, de-icing equipment, and transmission gears. They must watch gauges that measure load capacity and engine operations. They must be mindful of traffic, pedestrians and other unforeseeable obstacles.

These professional men and women must do all this while being accountable for their life safety and the life safety others who share the road with them. They do all this in the worst possible weather conditions imaginable while managing their own personal fatigue.

It takes a unique individual to be able to pull all that has to be done together and be successful each time on the road. We just completed 36 hour non-stop work shift during the worst blizzard to hit the town in anyone’s memory. Just saying.

Carol Quish February 10, 2013 at 02:34 PM
Thanks John. The mayor should have put your message on the emergency notification system. This would have stopped many of the complaints.
Nancy B February 10, 2013 at 04:13 PM
I worked Friday night 5pm till 11a rn at Hartford Hospital. My street wasn't plowed couldn't get in, parked in a parking lot slept till they did. Even after that I think you made the right decision. I was safe at least glad you kept those men safe!!!
Ori S. Clare February 10, 2013 at 04:19 PM
Thank you for explaining your rationale. I believe you made the right decision, especially if you had emergency plowing teams to dig out any streets where residents may have needed urgent medical attention or transport. Lives and health (of residents AND plow operators) versus convenience is rarely a tough call - although may be unpopular with some residents. Kudos.
stephanie yearsley February 10, 2013 at 04:39 PM
I agree, and am so glad you wrote this article. You and your team are doing a great job. Thank you!
JAGADISH PATEL February 10, 2013 at 04:41 PM
Thanks DPW for your efforts to clear snow during NEMO storm. Every system has a top limit. The limit can be raised to do a snow removal job effectively within WEST HARTFORD residents TOLERANCE level. The more than 100 year old roads, sidewalks and driveways requires a intelligent study & implementation of the effective ways to surmount the snow job. When & Where the snow accumulations between road and sidewalk considered in design of it. The DPW's idea of storeing the snow in the center of road and having no space between sidewalk and the road be considered and snow ploughing be done from sidewalk to center of the road. This will please 20,000 residents who will not requireat all to clear heavy compacted snow created by TOWN plows in present way of plowing. During NON SNOW DAYS the central area of the road can be used for parking, trees etc to one's imagination. Jagadish Patel P.E.
GT February 10, 2013 at 05:26 PM
Your team is dong an awesome job!!!
Howard Rosenblatt February 10, 2013 at 05:42 PM
Thank you John. A job well done. A comment though, this was known to be a long duration storm, why put all your drivers out from the beginning so they are all exhausted at the same time, after 36 hours as you said? Why not stagger them so we can have plows out for the duration? I am a Vet as well and you always keep a well rested reserve. Also, I went for a walk on Saturday morning and saw many side streets getting a 2nd and 3rd pass while my street was not touched till 3am Sunday morning. Safety first but I feel these issues deserve a reply. Thank you.
John Lyons February 10, 2013 at 05:48 PM
Well done john. West Hartford is in good hands!!! WIth another big one in the cards possibly for end of the week, we know you guys are getting the job done..and done safely!!!
Ronni Newton February 10, 2013 at 06:33 PM
REM - John doesn't live in West Hartford and hasn't been home to see his wife and kids since very early Friday morning. If you're asking me if my own street has been plowed the answer is yes, there is one lane down the middle but it wasn't plowed at all until late yesterday afternoon. And, I'm on the bus route to Webster Hill Elementary School.
Regina Leonard February 10, 2013 at 06:40 PM
I think you all are doing a fantastic job!! It is not easy to get this monumental task done and it is important to keep the drivers safe. Thanks one and all!
shannon February 10, 2013 at 07:20 PM
You're doing a great job. Keep it up!
GT February 10, 2013 at 07:45 PM
And just one more comment. SO MANY towns are totally un-plowed. WH is so much more on top of it than other towns. People who complain should learn to be thankful. I understand it is frustrating if you are a healthcare worker or has some other job that is essential and you need to get to work, I would be frustrated about not getting out too. But the rest of the people who really don't need to get anywhere should be thankful.
Bradley F. February 10, 2013 at 08:33 PM
Far be it from me to rain on the love fest of comments but for the tax dollars we pay in West Hartford, we deserved better. Howard asks a valid question. Why weren't the drivers staggered so that the entire operation didn't shut down at once? Also why weren't all the streets gone over at least once before trying to fully clean individual ones? Seems as if there is a pecking order beyond the main thoroughfares. Why is it that streets such as Stoner Drive are always done before streets such as Spring Lane and Cherryfield Dr.? I'm not criticizing the drivers who do a fabulous job, but the management team needs to address these questions. The mayor should spare us his self-serving messages and get involved in better planning for these events. I hope that the powers that be don"t even think about raising our taxes again; if so, the West Hartford Taxpayers Assoc. is going to have many new members.
Terri peeps February 10, 2013 at 09:01 PM
We have spent hours and hours digging out only to have the town plow us back in. I feel for your guys but there are several videos out there of them not caring how things were plowed! It was a heart felt gesture to let them go home. I am glad they were safe but please help me understand why the well rested had to plow us all back in with at least 2-3 feet of icy snow 2 pm on Sunday? We've helped people shovel all day long and now to come back to this? And now to get calls from the people we already helped that are trapped again?
Carole Mulready February 10, 2013 at 09:10 PM
Thank you for the explanation. Heartily agree with the precautions taken. And as someone previously mentioned ... it is what good leaders do -make the tough decisions. Carole Mulready
Cheyenne Rhodes February 10, 2013 at 09:54 PM
You made the right decision. Safety first.
gail February 10, 2013 at 10:22 PM
You made the right decision. As I was snow blowing my driveway this morning, I smiled at the driver as he was plowing our street. Sure that seemed foreign to him (and not an angry resident)....and I hadn't read this article till now. I'm sure they are exhausted beyond limits.
chuck richards February 10, 2013 at 10:38 PM
John, Your team and sub's are doing an amazing job considering the storm impact.. I'm still trying to figure out how your team is able to find the middle of the street with such a massive blanket of snow hiding all the curbs.
Eve Stricklett February 10, 2013 at 11:02 PM
Thank you so much for keeping our street clear and therefore safe at the best pace for the welfare of you and your team! Great job on a massive task!
Don Z February 11, 2013 at 12:05 AM
Not being snarky, but exactly how should they plow so that you don't get plowed back in??? Yes it is frustrating, but I don't see anyway around it. I usually don't even bother with the last few feet of my driveway until the plows have come and gone.
Kevin Mahoney February 11, 2013 at 11:39 AM
it's always amazing to me how well planned and thoughtout the snow removal is done in our town, especially since these enormous amounts of snow have to be stored somewhere-plowing isnt the only task that these men and women need to deal with and imagine the difficulty of having to negotiate around a stuck vehicle. I was relocated to Milwaukee for 25 years and the taxes there are enormous--I am bemused by the silly comments of town residents that resort to their enormous taxes that they must pay here--which is like 40% less than what I paid in Milwaukee--the town of West Hartford does a grand job of providing excellent snow removal and emergency information--better than having to tune in to the talking heads and hysterical weathermen -all looking to improve their ratings---Kudos to the DPW and to Mayor Slivka!!!
Philip Woods February 11, 2013 at 07:48 PM
After each storm, I can't help but think how efficient the road crews are at clearing the roads. This one included!
Nanci Wylde February 14, 2013 at 08:12 PM
Now, for all you people in WeHa who haven't shoveled out your curb cuts, please get them shoveled. The deadline was yesterday and it is an ordinance violation.
Burris Cohen February 14, 2013 at 08:19 PM
I'm tired of hearing excuses from PW Director Phillips about why things weren't and haven't been done. I beg to disagree with most people here who have patted John on the back, telling him what a wonderful job he did during the storm. He did a terrible job: he neglected to pre-treat most of the main arteries in town prior to the storm, he let go most of his plow drivers because he didn't want them to break a nail during the storm, and he's neglected to finish the job after the storm - New Park, Park Road, NB Ave and Quaker Lane are backed up because of Phillip's negligence about clearing the intersections - which btw are the most important areas to clear during a storm, and certainly 5 days (!!!) after the storm has passed.
Burris Cohen February 14, 2013 at 08:23 PM
I could bear to hear a little less of Slifka's robo-calls and more real Town management during a major storm. Get a handle on PW: clear the intersections for right-turns, straight-ons, and left-turns in four directions. Major back-ups all over town while Public Works rests on it's laurels from their successes from storms well-past. PW has screwed up on this one.
David February 15, 2013 at 05:05 AM
Funny how some people just don't get it. Pre treat roads? Uh there was how much snow that fell? Every town in CT is in the same boat. To tear into the drivers and management is ridiculous. It's called patience. I don't live in WH but feel the management did the right thing. It snowed close to 4-5" an hour over night, no way to keep up with it that night. WH is no better not worse than any other town in CT. We are all still struggling with tight roads today. This was a historic blizzard, something many of us have never dealt with including public works do for you to criticize them is uncalled for. Funny how s little inconvenience stirs up so much criticism.
Jakes February 15, 2013 at 02:18 PM
I won't question last weekend's work, but now we're almost a week from the storm and major roads are still not clear. Main Street does not have 2 full lanes. Cars are still swerving to avoid piles of snow in travel lanes. Local streets don't have enough room for two cars to pass. I haven't seen a piece of DPW equipment in days. What's the deal?
Kat Kelly February 15, 2013 at 03:45 PM
Gee a new title (Snow and ice control operators).
West Hartford tax payer February 17, 2013 at 12:40 AM
So today we had a very lite dusting only in the shaded areas of the property. the roads all clear of snow temp at 35 and what do i see a plow truck putting down salt really 35 degrees.. Way to SUCK up the overtime boys. And for the past storm are street was left from Friday night 9 oclock till Sunday 36 hours unplowed. But when I did get out on a walk I noticed the town parks had been plowed. plow the town parks before town roads . Thank you for such a great job
Dr Bob February 19, 2013 at 12:06 AM
And here some of us thought you'd please every last one of us...tsk tsk...I'd say a pretty good job, shoveled out the driveway and sidewalk with a bit of help from a neighbor with a blower...our street saw the plow truck at mid-afternoon Saturday. We knew since we were told to stay off the roads, it was just as well Linbrook stayed snowed in for a bit. Unless you have one truck for each street, someone will say hey "why not us first." I do feel for those who were inconvenienced, but as long as it wasn't more serious than that, well it's Winter and it's New England.


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