When Winter Hits It’s Go-time for the Department of Public Works Salt & Snow Plow Team
Writer: Josh Brown
Photographer: Brian Brosmer
It is no secret that winter can be fairly brutal in Central Indiana, and Fishers is no exception. But even when the toughest stretches of snow and ice hit our city, the roads, more often than not, are as clear as possible for drivers to safely navigate.
It’s a luxury that can often be overlooked and taken for granted, but make no mistake, a great deal of effort and planning goes into keeping Fishers’ roads clear when winter season hits. The Fishers Department of Public Works (DPW) houses 67 salt & snow plows, and the drivers are the unsung snow warriors during the winter months.
“The best part of our strategy is our team. We couldn’t do it without these guys,” says Eric Pethtel, Director of Public Works. “They take pride in their work for sure, and they really view it as a challenge to always do better. They are trained and ready. I’ve got a whole staff of experts in this field, particularly in winter operations. Our team is able to make adjustments on the fly as well and that is what keeps us ahead of the game when it comes to keeping the roads clear. That is what makes a difference when you drive south of 96th Street.”
A large part of Pethtel’s role is managing the department and making sure his team is well prepared with everything they need. When it comes to the winter season, the time and preparation that goes into keeping the roads safe for drivers is critical. Pethtel says the planning stage and those talks start well before the first snow falls in Fishers.
“About four years ago, myself and a handful of our staff were at the Geist Blast on the Bridge in 102-degree heat, and we were talking about our winter operations and our strategy to do better,” Pethtel says. “We really kick the tires early in planning our winter operations, and that is why our team is polished and ready. Everything we do is deliberate and thought out.
“We break the community up into seven sections, and we have quality control individuals in all the areas,” Pethtel adds. “The drivers split into two, 12-hour shifts for the duration until we are done. Depending on how bad the snow or ice is, we have additional staff that we tap into to have some extra hands. Thankfully, we haven’t had to do that this winter. We have snow priority groups that are color-coded, and once we knock out one section, we immediately move on to the next. It is all very thought out and well planned.”
In the roughest of winters (the winter of 2013 is one that comes to mind), Pethtel says that just about all hands are on deck, including himself and even Mayor Scott Fadness.
“If it is bad enough, absolutely, all hands are on deck,” Pethtel says. “I’ve plowed if it is four or five inches or more. The mayor comes out, too. He is a farm boy and loves to plow, and he’s good at it.”
The DPW even finds ways to involve the community, too. Throughout the years, through events like Touch a Truck and National Public Works Week, kids in the Fishers community and local artists have had the opportunity to paint some of the snow plows with special designs.
“Some of them have Minions painted on and other fun designs,” Pethtel says. “The kids will paint a picture and put their name on it. It draws a lot of attention and gets the community involved.”
Winter season is just one piece of the DPW’s role in the city. The Public Works team stays busy year round. Pethtel says it is a department that can be often overlooked, but, at the end of the day, what matters is serving the community and making sure the city is clean, safe and fun.
“I think we in the Public Works world go unnoticed, and that is fine,” Pethtel says. “None of us signed up to get a pat on the back. We are here to make a difference, and we do. A lot of folks don’t realize, though, that before they even open their garage doors to go to work in the morning, they have encountered us. I like to say that Public Works is the silent arm of Public Safety. If you and I have an emergency, we call the police or the fire department. But the moment the police or fire department has an emergency, they call the Public Works. I think our guys are under-appreciated, but we really aren’t in it for that.”
Among the many ways that the Department of Public Works serves the Fishers community is a program called Hometown Help for Heroes. The program started three years ago, with the idea of helping take care of those families that have a head of household who is actively deployed in the military.
“This is my favorite thing that we have done,” Pethtel says. “If a head of household is actively deployed, the Department of Public Works will come and take care of their house while they are gone. We will shovel their driveways and sidewalks, or mow their lawns in summer for the duration of while they are on active duty. It is a fantastic program. I do a lot of networking through the American Public Works Association around the country, and I’ve been able to speak at national conferences about it.”
The idea for the program came about when one of the city’s own internal staff was actively deployed and co-workers wanted to do all they could to take care of the family while he was gone.
The application process is simple. Visit fishers.in.us/hometownheroes for more information and to submit an application.