By Francis ChungJanuary 10, 2018
During the Jan. 4 snowfall which dropped about an inch of accumulation on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, the JBM-HH Directorate of Public Works' snow crews persevered through significant manpower shortages in order to ensure the safety and convenience of the installation's residents and workforce.
The snow crews consist of DPW workers who voluntarily take on extra hours and duties in addition to their normal shifts, often resulting in long hours, little sleep and extended periods away from home. The volunteers are compensated with overtime pay.
According to DPW Operations and Maintenance Chief Tony Taylor, the snow crew is currently understaffed by almost 50 percent, with a total of 21 volunteers this winter, down from 38 last year.
Taylor attributes the shortfall to personnel leaving the installation due to retirements, reassignments and other reasons.
Nonetheless, DPW remains responsible for clearing snow and ice, and spreading de-icing materials over most of the main roads on Fort Myer and Fort McNair, with the route between the Caisson Stables and the Old Post Chapel being a particular priority to ensure that all funerals scheduled at Arlington National Cemetery are able to proceed.
A contractor under the supervision of DPW Contracting Officer's Representative Dave Metzger is responsible for clearing all walkways and one entrance to each building at both Fort Myer and Fort McNair, and also handles all snow operations at Henderson Hall.
DPW Maintenance Mechanic Anthony Ruffin was one of the volunteers who worked the Jan. 4 snow event. He was called in for snow duty at midnight before reporting for his normal day shift.
"Our mission is to help the Soldiers so they can continue to do their exercises and the base can continue to function like its supposed to," he said in the midst of 16 straight hours on the clock. "I keep on stepping up every year."
Ruffin asked the public for patience and forbearance as DPW workers juggle snow-related service requests with their normal duties and routine maintenance calls.
"We're very shorthanded and we'll get to you when we can," he said.
Maintenance Mechanic Enoch Mensah said that community members can do a lot to assist DPW's efforts simply by staying out of the way.
"If you know you don't have something important to do outside, it's best to just stay indoors so that we can clear the road for you to come out," he said.
Taylor offered a number of additional recommendations that, he said, will help DPW do its job and help protect the safety of the joint-base community.
In addition to staying off of installation roads unless absolutely necessary and giving wide berth to snow plows. Taylor urged community members to be mindful of staying as visible as possible, for instance by wearing reflective gear and carrying flashlights during early-morning runs.
He asked residents and staff to leave snow emergency routes clear, and to park in a manner that leaves space for roads and driveways to be plowed. He also noted that preserving access to assigned parking spaces can not be a priority for DPW during snow events.
Taylor stressed the importance of closely monitoring children when they are outside during inclement weather, and to clearly explain to them which areas are safe to play in, and which are not.
As a cautionary tale, he cited an incident last year during which a child was playing around an ice castle that he had built in the road at the intersection of Fort Myer's Lee Avenue and McNair Road. The child was difficult to see from the point of view of a snow-plow driver, making for a potentially dangerous situation.
Another danger Taylor cited is the threat posed by large icicles that form on the gutters of buildings around the installation. He asked residents and staff to report these to DPW so they can be safely removed before falling on anyone.
Additionally, Taylor suggested that residents stock up on ice melt in advance of any winter weather event, rather than putting additional strain on DPW staff by asking for it to be delivered during a storm. Pet-friendly ice melt can be picked up at Fort Myer's Building 325 and Fort McNair's Bldg. 40.
Taylor also warned that leaving windows and doors open during extreme cold can lead to ruptured pipes which will require DPW's attention, thus diverting time and resources from snow-removal work.
Despite the adversity caused by his staffing shortage, Taylor emphasized how pleased he was by the performance of his workers.
"They surprise me every day due to the fact that we're under strength and they're working long, tedious hours," he said. "They really don't ask for much other than just to show up and do their jobs. A lot of them are working outside their trades, and I think they're underappreciated for the amount of work that they do. They're very humble, but they are the driving force for the joint base."
Pentagram staff photojournalist Francis Chung can be reached at email@example.com.