Ice or not, some Middle Georgia jobs mean hitting the road

Telegraph staffFebruary 12, 2014 


Butch Fennell operates a chain saw Wednesday for a Georgia Department of Transportation crew clearing a tree from the side of Ga. 83 south of Forsyth. For some state and public safety workers, icy conditions on the roads were not a reason to refrain from driving.


The threat of icy roads forced many schools and businesses to close Wednesday, but for some workers, driving comes with the job -- ice or not.

Tow trucks were busy Wednesday, with calls coming in from all over Macon to deal with wrecks or vehicles that were stuck, said Marcus Birt, the office manager for Adams Towing & Recovery.

“There are a lot of wrecks going on right now,” he said Wednesday morning. “We’ve probably gotten 25 calls. There are a lot of stuck cars. People need to be careful.”

Bibb County Sheriff David Davis said his deputies are told to drive cautiously, especially if they had to respond to an emergency call. Davis said it’s left to a deputy’s discretion on how fast to drive.

“Ice presents a more difficult challenge than snow,” Davis said. “With snow, you can push it out of the way. But ice presents a special challenge.”

Davis said deputies haven’t used snow chains in years. Instead, tires on squad cars were slightly deflated to give the vehicle more traction. Davis said all squad cars use anti-lock brakes, which also helps a deputy maintain control.

Ross Moulton, deputy chief of the Warner Robins Fire Department, said the weight of fire trucks actually helps on the ice. At up to 85,000 pounds, the fire trucks can weigh as much as 30 Toyota Corollas -- but Moulton can’t remember any of them having problems sliding. They have all-terrain tires, anti-lock brakes, enhanced steering and many of the features found on cars now.

But Moulton said drivers are careful, getting reports of icy spots from dispatchers, maintaining a safe distance from all other vehicles on the road and traveling at an appropriate speed. And that’s good advice for any driver, but he hopes most will make a different choice altogether.

“Stay home if at all possible unless you have to get out,” he said, warning particularly of fallen power lines, the build-up of ice on bridges and the increased chances of ice in shady spots.

Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief Marvin Riggins said his department’s trucks use dual braking systems, which help the drivers maintain control.

“It’s a different type of system,” he said. “It’s pretty sensitive. It’s driven pretty well. ... We do have wider tires, but these vehicles are still capable of sliding.”

Drivers who work for emergency services are usually trained to drive in icy conditions.

Amy Abel-Kiker, spokeswoman for Mid Georgia Ambulance, said her company’s EMTs all have received such training.

“They’re trained from the very beginning to drive in inclement weather,” she said.

During such conditions, Abel-Kiker said, it’s extremely important for the public to be aware of emergency vehicles and pull to the right side of the road when they hear sirens.

David Borghelli, director of emergency medical services for Houston Healthcare, said crews get extra training and regular admonitions.

“I tell my guys and they all agree: We can’t be there to save you if we can’t get there safely.”

Ambulances also now always have paramedics who can administer medications and start advanced procedures, a change from two decades ago. Ambulances don’t have to race as much in poor weather because patients can get good care while traveling safely.

“The old days of just tossing them on a gurney and getting them to a hospital as fast as you can are long gone,” Borghelli said.

The professional drivers with Byron-based Georgia Peach Shuttle have an easier system for driving on icy roads, said co-owner Anthony Rogers: They don’t. The company mostly runs people between their homes and Atlanta’s airport.

“We’re off the road completely today,” he said Wednesday from his home office. “We’re playing it safe because safety for our customers is number one. We’re just not going to travel on dangerous, icy roads up to Atlanta.”

The company ceased operation before the first snowflake fell in January’s storm. In heavy rain, drivers slow down, so they’re not traveling too fast for conditions.

In this storm, most customers already had called to cancel their rides because many of their flights were canceled.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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