Updated, Jan. 26 – lost paragraph restored, quote from Hal Alvord.
NORWALK, Conn. – Richard Sirois had a steady supply of frustrations to relay Tuesday morning as he worked to clear South Norwalk roads of snow, when, he said with some reluctance, he had just hit a car.
The Norwalk Department of Public Works heavy equipment operator was more than 24 hours into a snow plowing shift, having taken a break at the Public Works Center between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., plowing the same South Norwalk route he’s plowed for 17 years, perched high in a brand new truck. The joy stick next to him was a new tool, he said. The computer next to it had been a friend for 3-4 years.
It was about 9 a.m. He had been frustrated on his way up back Woodward Avenue after making a brief entry into Harbor View – City Carting workers were out and about, serving as road blocks.
No love lost there.
“These guys – new garbage company, throw it right in the road, don’t clean it up,” he said of the independent contractors doing work formerly done by Norwalk public works union members. “Worst thing the city every did.”
Sirois had backed up the dead end Yost Road to the water, and been blocked from coming back by the City Carting recycling truck,
“Instead of them letting me pull out,” he muttered.
Sirois passed the recycling truck after following it out onto Woodward a minute or two later, and skipped the next few side streets – so as to avoid getting trapped by City Carting again – before turning right on Lowndes Avenue.
“I had it all clean,” he said. People blew it into the road, he said.
A man out shoveling could move the jeep that was parked in front of the house so the plow could clear the road to the curb, he said, but “people don’t care.”
Next road: Quintard Avenue. That man shoveling could have thrown his snow on the yard instead of onto the street, he said.
Then it was into Shorefront Park, where the plow was blocked this time by City Carting workers picking up garbage.
“He sees me behind him. You’d think he’d let me go so I can clear the way for him,” Sirois said.
Sirois made his way to the southern end of Shorefront Park, backing up down another dead end on the “back hill.” He stopped shortly after making a sharp turn at the water front.
He called headquarters and asked the dispatcher to send a Norwalk Police officer.
“Guy had a car stuck out into the road. I caught it,” he said.
A silver car was visible in the rear view mirror – parked weirdly on an angle, with the front end into the road.
A man in a bathrobe came up to the passenger window to say the plow had run over a recycling bin, which was stuck under the back wheel. Sirois got out, and came back, announcing that he hadn’t hit the car after all, that the recycling bin was under the truck. It wasn’t damaged either, he said.
The guy who owned the house didn’t know whose car it was, he said.
Sirois gave up on plowing that road and went on, unaware that the parked car incident would revisit him that afternoon.
Three Norwalk Police cruisers were around the corner – one of them blocking his path yet again. He backed down the road and headed north.
A good ride
The 55-gallon gas tank on the truck can take him through an entire storm, he said. The computer let him keep an eye on the “products” — materials spread on the road to battle ice — so they wouldn’t be wasted. The brine in the tank on the back of the truck combines with the treated salt so it adheres to the road, he said.
“This is heaven,” he said, of his new ride. “The first truck I had was a big auto car. They were standards – they were great trucks, they pushed a lot of snow, but they were big. From where I sat to the corner of the plow was 13 feet.”
It’s now 11 feet from his seat to the plow, he said. The truck cab moves on air pads, and he was sitting on an air-ride seat, he said.
Good thing about his route, he said, is that the parking lot at Columbus Magnet School is easy, and the janitors will even come out and move their vehicles. It takes four truck two hours to clean out the parking lot at Brien McMahon High School.
There are people out all night, he said, of South Norwalk.
“Down here you’ve got to be a lot more alert. You get a lot of people, a lot of cars. You’ve got a lot of parked cars, where up there (Silvermine, Cranbury) they don’t have any,” he said.
Sirois seemed amazed and frustrated at the trust people put in him, standing close to the plow as it passed, not thinking that maybe it would slip on ice.
Other challenges: “Concord never dries up because it never sees the sun. I could put a ton of salt here – forget it. It’s just a road you’ve got to stay on top of.”
“With a lot of snow on the ground, everything blends together, so if you’ve never been on a route before you have a little trouble picking up the curb line. But we’ve been fortunate. Management has been doing a lot of cross training with all the new guys, so they’re pretty well adapted to it.”
He dropped a reporter off back at the Public Works Center and went on his way. At 3:30 p.m. he was back on the back hill of Shorefront Park with DPW acting Superintendent of Operations Chris Torre.
About that car…
The owner of the car had called police, Torre said. Police had investigated and allowed the car’s owner to drive the vehicle away, frustrating Torre, who wanted to see it.
The guy lived on Quintard Avenue, Torre said. He said he had parked the car in Shorefront Park and walked back to Quintard, Torre said.
There was no damage to the plow, no paint from the car, Torre said. But the incident was likely to cause work for Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr, he said.
DPW Director Hal Alvord said Sirois did not hit the car.
Shorefront Park is no more difficult to plow than other places in the city, he said.
“It’s indicative of the kinds of things every one of our drivers runs into whenever they are out there trying to plow the roads,” he said. “People’s parked cars are the biggest challenge, but yup, you’ve got the garbage people, the recycling people. Oil trucks are out there trying to refill people’s heating oil tanks and they block the road – that happened actually on Richard’s route at Shorefront Park the last storm. Those are normal things they have to deal with when they try to get the streets plowed. It’s a good perspective of what the plow driver is looking at when he is out there trying to do the best he can for the residents of the city.”