No Business Like Snow Business

By Beth Breitenstein, Public works

As Devin Moses gets behind the wheel of his three-ton dump truck to plow city streets, he has one thing on his mind. “Safety, it is always safety first,” says Moses. Moses is a Public Works equipment operator and has been plowing for three and a half years. After a mild Kansas City winter last year, Moses is gearing up for whatever this winter has in store.

Snow removal crews start ‘dry runs’ (the truest sense of that phrase) as early as October, to learn their routes before the winter rears its snowy head. “You have to memorize the character of the road. You want to remember tight spots, which hills are steep and where medians and speed bumps are located,” says Moses. “When the snow hits, obviously everything gets buried.” Moses, who focuses on making curbs accessible for people with disabilities the rest of the year, says he has a special place in his heart for the snow season. “It isn’t glamorous by any means, but it is my honor to serve the residents of Kansas City.”

Public Works prepares for the season as early as late summer, coordinating shipments of more than 35,000 tons of salt that are stored in five salt domes across the city. Fleet managers focus on tuning up more than 150 city vehicles, from several city departments, that will deploy across the city’s 6,500 lane miles.

When a significant snow or ice storm hits, the city activates both of its two snow removal programs, residential and arterial. The arterial (or main streets) program is a 24/7 operation, where crews work 12 hour shifts in dump trucks. The residential program operates on neighborhood streets from sun up to sun down. Moses is on the night shift with the arterial program. “Those nights get long, I’ll be honest. But, thinking about my purpose and the end result, I find a way to get through those long hours,” he says. “I like knowing I am helping residents to get out of their driveways and head to work to go about their day.”

Marva Combs has been at the wheel of a pick-up plow for more than 28 years in the Public Works department. She can recall some of the worst storms that many Kansas City residents are also likely to readily recall. “The one that sticks out as the worst for me was that ice storm in the early nineties. I had to rescue my supervisor who was stuck in a dump truck skidding down a hill. I had to back a dump truck down the road to pull him out.” Combs has also encountered the hurdles that come with being in a large vehicle navigating treacherous conditions. “It is frightening, treacherous and requires quick thinking. When you start sliding and you know you have so much metal in front of you and weight on top of you, it is truly terrifying. However, it is my job to keep control and stay safe to keep the public safe. It’s a human thing to be afraid at times,” she says.

Both Combs and Moses recall stories of drivers cursing and honking at them while on the job. After recounting a story about a driver yelling obscenities from their vehicle, Combs passed along this reminder for drivers: “Give us space, be patient, and stay off the road if you don’t need to be out. We may be in a large truck, but we are in just as much danger as anyone else and we need room to do our job,” she says.

During the winter season, residents can stay abreast of the city’s plowing plans by visiting kcmo.gov/snow.