Updated 1/17/12 8:55 p.m.
Snow is here, at last. And even though I’m currently in tropical Thailand, I had the pleasure of spending time with the expert crew who make our Forest Park streets navigable when it snows.
Perhaps we residents of Forest Park are a bit spoiled when it comes to snowplowing. We even get our sidewalks plowed. It’s all thanks to the 15-man Public Works Department snowplow crew.
“They’re the best around at snowplowing,” said John Doss, director of public works. “They sacrifice family time all winter long. When I call, they’re there. At times they work endless hours.”
“The public works guys don’t get the credit they deserve,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone at a lunch the village hosted at Healy’s on Dec. 16. “These guys operate without any fanfare. They are there every day, making sure the streets and public properties are clean and orderly. I think the public has just come to expect it.”
Michael Marasco, who has worked on the crew for seven years, acknowledged that at the end of a double shift it can be hard to stay awake. A lot of coffee and energy drinks get consumed. “After working all night, you’re tired and hungry and there are no fast food places open,” he said. “Your eyes can be wide open but you’re falling asleep.”
Sal Stella has been plowing snow for 14 years. “Depending on the conditions, it can get scary,” he said. “If it’s snowing, it can be hard to see. When you’re driving a big rig – an 18-ton Sterling diesel pushing a 10-by-4-foot plow – there’s snow flying from the plow over the truck. Basically, you’re looking at taillights ahead of you and hoping you don’t hit anything.”
Patrick Scollard, a five-year veteran of battling the snow, told how his truck went into a skid. “I was going over the Harlem bridge one time,” he recalled. “Sal was following me. The snow was coming down real hard, and it was starting to get slippery. Just before I was going to make a right turn, my truck started to slide in the direction of a car. I stomped on the brakes and luckily they caught. I came to a stop inches away from smashing the guy’s car.
“After that, I said to myself, ‘You know what? I’ve been plowing all night. I’m just going to take a break, gas up the truck, get more salt and have a cup of coffee.'”
“On the whole, we handle it pretty well,” Marasco added. “We communicate a lot. We’re on the phone every half hour or so to the other guys saying, ‘How you doing?’ We watch each other’s backs.”
Doss said his crew is motivated to put up with the long hours and interruptions of their family time, partly from professional pride. “They’re dedicated to their job,” he said, “because Forest Park has always had the reputation of being the best, and they want to keep it that way.”
Laurie Kokenes, executive director of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development has worked with this crew at Summer Fest and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and many other events. She added, “The guys truly care about Forest Park and always go that extra mile to help out.”
Another source of motivation, said Doss, is that the crew feels like a second family. “I’ve been here 28 years and most of these guys have been here 20-plus years,” he said.
The crew, you quickly learn if you hang around them for a while, doesn’t express their feelings for each other in politically correct ways. During the lunch at Healy’s, the banter, the teasing and wisecracks were non-stop. During the hour they were all together, the crew didn’t say one nice thing about each other.
“Look at that guy’s schnoz,” said Mike Loisi who has worked for the village for 25 years. “If he turns sideways you have to duck.” He then ripped on a co-worker with a receding hairline and they returned the favor, making comments about how much he eats and how well his digestive system works.
But if you listened to the music that went along with the words, the affection they had for each other was palpable.
“Some of these guys I went to Field-Stevenson and Proviso East with. We’re like a family,” explained Doss.