Jeff Humphrey

Behind the Wheel of a Snow Plow

Jeff Humphrey, Media Content Coordinator, 509.625.6308

Friday, February 23, 2018 at 12:39 p.m.

While most of us are still sleeping, City of Spokane plow crews are already at work.

One of the drivers is Rod Mann. He’s been attacking the snow and ice for 20 years and knows the nighttime is the right time to put in some good licks on the pavement.

“Today my route is outlying south,” said Mann as he pushed his plow up Grand Boulevard.

“The Eagle Ridge area is a real populated area, so I run out there before the rush hour and I try to treat all the roads to make it safe for their morning commute,” explained Mann.

It hasn’t snowed for three days, but Mann finds shaded slopes in the neighborhoods off of Hatch Road are still coated in a bulletproof layer of ice.

“See this ice here? I sanded it yesterday morning and it’s hard-packed ice. So with the new stuff, it should be able to melt it,” said Mann.

The “new stuff” is a salt the city is experimenting with that’s supposedly less corrosive. Its Smurf-blue color helps absorb heat from the sun.

“I’m salting now and I try to stretch it out and do as many miles as I can,” Mann said as he pushed a button that activates a rotary spreader on the back of his plow.

Spokane has 2200 lane-miles of city streets. Launching a full-city plow is like driving to all the way to San Diego, with chains on your car.

“Once a snow emergency hits, then we’re in seven days a week,” said Jim Biggar of the City of Spokane Street Department.

Like all plow operators, Biggar works 12 hours on, 12 hours off during full-city plows.

Biggar worries about people who end up with a berm in their driveway and then grab their snow shovels too soon.

“It makes people upset because once they start shoveling, then all of sudden another plow comes by and puts another berm in. So be patient. If you see a plow, give it some time and allow for another plow to come by because we’re usually in pairs,” warned Biggar.

It’s a tricky tag-team effort made more difficult by narrow streets and cars parked on both sides of the roadway.

Plow drivers wish when snow is in the forecast, people would park as close to the curb as possible.

“This creates a really difficult situation for us. This Jeep here has another foot on his right side where he could move over a little bit and this causes a really tight situation,” lamented Mann as he found his plow nearly trapped by parked cars on a steep South Hill street.

On this day, Mann has the time to maneuver his 12- foot blade through the choke point. But in a business where speed is the name of the game, any type of delay gives falling snow a chance to start clogging roadways, even if a plow has already been there.

“That day I had to come back and plow that hill seven times to keep it open,” said Mann of our recent Valentine’s Day snowstorm.

That’s when heavy equipment operators from other City departments like Water, Sewer and Signal & Lighting were called in to drive 53 pieces of snow removal equipment.

Mann welcomes the extra help from his Public Works colleagues if it means fewer drivers sliding out of control.

“I like my job. I like plowing, I like paving and I like running my route. I take a lot of pride in my route. If I can keep my hills clear and there are no accidents on my route that day, it makes me feel good that I did a good job,” said Mann a he climbed another hill in his white plow-sander.

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