Above and beyond – just a few stories from the snowstorms of January 2024
The rash of January snowstorms put a real strain on our resources but many don’t realize the things our snow fighters do to make sure you can safely get to where you need to go. During this most recent storm, we had several garage staff who worked 12- to 16-hour shifts for 16 days straight. In some areas, there are no hotels close enough to ensure that our snow fighters can safely and easily get back to the shop for their next shift. It’s not uncommon for these dedicated men and women to sleep in sleeping bags on cots in the garages, unable to get back home for days at a time for a home-cooked meal or to sleep in their own bed. But as is always the case, our crews stepped up and did what needed to be done. There are dozens of stories out there that may never be told outside of the garage, but here are just a few stories that have been shared of DOTers who went above and beyond the call of duty.
Coordinating the effort to save a child
On Saturday night, Jan. 13, our crews had been plowing snow for about a week non-stop. Heavy snow and strong winds had caused significant drifting and reduced visibility rendering many roads across the state as “travel not advised” or “impassable.”
A call came in that a desperately ill child needed to be transported from the hospital in Webster City to Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines. District 1 Maintenance Manager Bob Ellis didn’t miss a beat as he began coordinating the effort to get a snowplow escort for the ambulance.
Chris Glenn from the Williams garage took the first leg of the trip, escorting the ambulance from Webster City to Ames where Becvar from the Ames shop arranged for Ryan Jackson, a materials technician who was helping out behind the wheel of a plow, was ready to take over to escort the emergency crew to the 36th Street exit in Ankeny. From there, Luis Rodriquez from the Des Moines garage had lined up Ronnie Simons to guide the ambulance the rest of the way into Des Moines to the hospital.
Once the ambulance had arrived safely, the team reversed action to assist in getting the ambulance back to its home base in Webster City so it could be available for other emergencies in that area.
The operation was a prime example of staff stepping up to collaborate and do what was needed to be done to make lives better through transportation.
Jeff Nielsen to the rescue
When the snow gets deep, sometimes only the “big” snowblowers can get the job done. The Iowa DOT has 10 of these large blowers around the state, but none are permanently staged in Southeast Iowa. When Iowa 2 was buried in more than 12 feet of snow, Jeff Nielsen from the Waterloo garage was asked to take one of our large truck-mounted blowers down to get the road reopened.
On Saturday, Jan. 13, Jeff packed a bag and left right away to help his teammates to the south. He was away from home for several days, working to get Iowa highways 22, 149, 92, and 2 all reopened with enough space on each side of the road to store snow when the next round of winter weather hits. Even though Jeff says he enjoys running the large snow blower and does a great job, that’s a lot for one person to handle. His dedication has been essential to getting roads back open after this storm.
John Buck treks across the state to help
It’s a long way from Decorah in Northeast Iowa to Oakland in the southwest part of the state. Like Jeff, John Buck from the Decorah garage left his shop and his family to travel to an area where his expertise with the snowblower was needed.
John left early on Jan. 18 with a truck-mounted blower headed for District 4 and spent two days blowing snow on Iowa 6 between Oakland and Council Bluffs. When he got back to his area, he spent another two days working on U.S. 218 in eastern Iowa, helping to open that back up after the storm. That was another night spent away from home, but very much appreciated!
You gotta do what you you gotta do sometimes
Traffic ground to a halt on I-80 near Iowa City on the evening of Jan. 9. Heavy snow and ice coated the roadway. With traffic stopped, Steve Rauch from the Coralville shop couldn’t get through to plow or spread brine the conventional way.
Because of the depth of the snow and ice, Steve decided to open up the brine tank and let the liquid run under the stalled vehicles, melting the snow and ice and getting traffic moving again. This tactic isn’t our standard operation, but it worked to unclog the traffic jam.
Thanks, Steve, for thinking out of the box on this one!
These are just the tip of the iceberg of stories from the snowstorms that took over Iowa in January 2024. Thank you to the hundreds of snow fighters who spent days away from their families to help keep travelers safer on Iowa roads. And thank you to the families who support their DOTers. We couldn’t do what we do without you.