Emergency personnel fight through the cold and snow

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published January 10, 2014

 Traffic was relatively light but still moving carefully following the snowstorm and cold snap on Gratiot. While snow may have been cleared from the roadways, black ice remained a concern, as temperatures were too low for salt to be effective.

Traffic was relatively light but still moving carefully following the snowstorm and cold snap on Gratiot. While snow may have been cleared from the roadways, black ice remained a concern, as temperatures were too low for salt to be effective.

Photo by Kevin Bunch

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EASTPOINTE/ROSEVILLE — Winter hit Macomb County hard and fast in early January, with heavy snowfall followed by a cold snap making life difficult for many residents. For emergency services and other public workers, however, it just added a new wrinkle to their workdays.

Thomas Aiuto, Roseville’s Department of Public Works director, said efforts to keep the major roads clear started the evening of Sunday, Jan. 5, after the snowstorm had started. The ensuing frigid temperatures were a hindrance to efforts to clear the roads properly.

“Salt isn’t effective in these freezing temperatures,” Aiuto said Jan. 7. “Basically, we’re getting rid of the depth of the snow, but now we’re dealing with the packed-down snow, and we will be until the temperatures rise in the weekend.”

He said that all 11 members of the DPW staff were working on 16-hour shifts to get roads cleared and passable, with residential side streets being targeted Jan. 6-7 and major roads before that. Both plows and pickup trucks with attached plows were being used, Aiuto said.

Roseville Police Chief James Berlin said his officers were having a little difficulty getting down side streets and were utilizing their available four-wheel-drive vehicles to make it down those that had not yet been plowed. Other than that, the type of calls the officers received were a little different.

“Calls for service are down because it’s so cold out that no one is going out, including criminals,” Berlin said Jan. 7. “There is lots of black ice out there, and people are assuming that the roads are clear, and then are hitting that ice. Every car was on a traffic crash somewhere, with several more waiting to be responded to.”

The extreme cold Jan. 6-7 saw police officers bundled up heavily, Berlin added, and he noted that the temperatures made frostbite a real concern for anyone with exposed skin.

In Eastpointe, Public Safety Director John McNeilance said that, fortunately, the Fire Department did not have any fire calls during the cold snap, and that the city had been doing a good job of clearing the roads so officers could get around. Much like Roseville, however, the roads were proving to be the bigger sticking point.

“Obviously, it creates some travel problems on the roadways, and that’s the main thing: dealing with accidents and streets that are hard to get through,” he said. “Of course, we have parking issues and snow (emergency) issues we have to enforce.”

McNeilance said that his department has received some complaints about cars that had not been moved off the street during the snow emergency, where the city requires all cars off the streets so the streets can be properly plowed.

He added that people going out in inclement weather during the winter should make sure they have proper provisions in their cars for any length of a drive, limit exposure to the elements, and wear multiple layers.

Eastpointe DPW Director Mary Van Haaren said her staff did a great job clearing the roads, finishing their work by noon Jan. 7 by working nonstop for roughly 48 hours.

She said major roads like Gratiot Avenue were cleared by three plows working together overnight, with smaller trucks dealing with other roads and turnarounds. She said anywhere between five and 10 staff members were out at any given time to get roads cleared.

“We had them out in full force, and in between, we repaired a few water main breaks, so as far as we’re concerned, they did a really good job,” Van Haaren said. “The equipment all worked fine; they didn’t have any breakdowns of equipment. They’re just prepared for (the cold), so it didn’t have much of an impact.”

The water main breaks were not a huge problem, Van Haaren said, though one was beneath a tree’s roots. She said the staff knows what they are doing and knew to take the proper precautions to prevent serious injuries.

She said once the roads had been cleared, code enforcement personnel were checking to see which properties in the city had not complied with sidewalk snow removal ordinances, so the city could get contractors out to do it.

Van Haaren added that police officers were out ticketing some of the vehicles that had remained in the street during the snow emergency — though she noted that due to manpower reasons, not every car could get ticketed — while firefighters were out making sure fire hydrants were cleared of snow in case they were needed.

“There’s just all these little bits and pieces to this, and they want to make sure they are available for fighting fires if they need to,” Van Haaren said.

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