Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

Next Week's Column: An Ode to Utility Workers Warning-dialup unfriendly!


I’ve been thinking lately about equality in appearance, as it relates to city services.

See, we had this little storm recently, and the gusting winds from that storm pushed a bunch of trees down onto area streets and roadways. It’s small shakes as storms go, but it got our attention.

The fire department came out on weather watch, and the storm hit us so hard that the police department called out a couple of extra officers, too. After it blew through, we divided up into sectors and drove each street, looking for blocked roads, downed power lines, and any other problems. We found some, too -- and I’m not just talking about the five adolescent boys who flashed their chests at me as I drove by them on South Street. Yeah, they were wet, but I don’t think stupidity counts as storm related.

Anyway, here’s the scenario we encountered: A big piece of a tree – about a tree size piece – tried to fall over, but came to rest on another tree beside it. The other tree didn’t like that very much, and was threatening to drop his big brother at any moment – onto a house.

By that time everything else was winding down, so everyone gathered to work the problem. There were two fire trucks and three police cars, with maybe a dozen responders: consulting, making sure someone didn’t wander into the danger area, and, yes, rubbernecking.
Now, we’d sawed up several trees and moved them off to the side, no problem, but this one was still hanging in the air. As the fire department safety officer, my reaction to the idea of climbing this precariously leaning tree to operate a chain saw twenty feet in the air would have been, um … “No.”

Oh, we could have done it. We could have put the rescue truck into position, deployed the winch, and kept the tree from going over any further. Although the AFD doesn’t have a ladder truck, we could have used a system of ropes to steady a ground ladder, worn safety belts to keep the saw operator from falling, and tied off the tree at various spots so that as each part was cut, it would fall away from the house. It would have taken a few hours, a dozen guys, maybe three trucks …

Or we could call for the street department.

One guy came out, manning a single piece of heavy equipment. He carefully positioned it, moved its hydraulic bucket against the tree, and gently pushed it to one side until it fell across the street, safely avoiding buildings or vehicles. In minutes.

So, at the end of the day, who looks like the hero? If you’re not paying attention, it’s the guys in the big red trucks with all the lights on them, wearing the cool outfits. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting firefighters and police officers don’t deserve all the credit they get. But let’s take just a moment to pay tribute to the other town departments.

For instance, I’m pretty sure I saw the head of Albion’s Parks Department drive by in the storm’s aftermath, looking for debris to clean up; that would be the same guy who comes out to help plow snow after winter storms. I ran into him at a major house fire in town last summer, too. Here’s a guy whose job is not in any way emergency services related, and who in my considerable opinion keeps up one of the nicest park systems around; but when bad things happen, there he is.

Okay, maybe he’s bad luck.

Only a handful of guys work Albion’s two major infrastructure departments: One is Street, the other Water and Wastewater. (We used to call Water and Sewer, but somebody decided that name just stinks.) When one of those guys is in deep doo-doo, it might be literally. You don’t think keeping the sewer running is important? Try going without one.

There are also the cemetery workers. You can make fun if you want, but they step lively in that area, too (plus they’ve also been known to show up after storms). Their job could be made much easier if we removed all the trees from Albion’s cemetery, flattened the hills, and barred any decorations that would make it difficult to mow and trim. But we don’t, and at the risk of sounding maudlin, our cemetery is a beautiful place to just walk around, maybe take a moment and rest, recharge the batteries for the living. Just make sure to move around every now and then so they know you’re not a resident.

Is something like that important to a community? Yes.

All these services work together, in ways many people never see. Police, Fire, and EMS get all the attention, but how do we get to the scene of the crime without good streets? How do we fight the fire without a water supply? How many more ambulance calls would we have without clean water?

At least they don’t have to come out in the wee hours for emergencies, right? I mean, unless a blizzard or thunderstorm hits, or a water line bursts, or a heavy rain backs up a storm drain, or – oh, wait, they do come out in emergencies. Sometimes we even call on them during “routine” fires, to watch the levels of our water supply.

Okay, so they don’t get to run into burning buildings or wrestle with crazed bad guys. That doesn’t make them unimportant – just sane. Imagine what would happen to any community without the utilities workers and, next time you see one, shake his hand. Or if you’ve given thought to the kind of things they get into, just give a friendly nod.

Tags: new era, slightly off the mark, weekly column

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