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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Town Services Tackle Unique Challenges of Sleet/Snow Mix

Town Services Tackle Unique Challenges of Sleet/Snow Mix:
Patch checks in with the 
(Posted to 2/1)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Fairfielders have again been hit with a winter weather event this season, with an accumulation of an inch or two of snow as of 9 a.m. Tuesday morning that forced closure of local public and parochial schools. Unlike previous events though, the latest system calls for unique conditions to develop Tuesday night that include freezing drizzle and sleet and an ice accumulation of up to 0.3 of an inch into Wednesday.

The potential for hazards like slick roads and downed wires and tree limbs exists, which will present challenges to town services like the postal service, United Illuminating and the Department of Public Works. Patch connected with these services to get insight into how they are preparing for these eventualities and a current status on conditions.

Superintendent of Public Works Scott Bartlett, a veteran with regard to winter storm events, had mapped out his plan but said unpredictable factors may alter his strategy.

“We deal first with snow and ice and put a coat of salt down,” he said, “with the priority to make the roads passable. But we don’t know what the ice is going to do. We’re not going to plow off right now, but instead will leave the roads slushy as it’s easier to plow off a slushy road coated with ice than to try and remove ice off a bare road. Once ice forms on the road, it’s trickier to treat. You want to prevent the bonding of ice to pavement.”

With regard to the potential of tree limbs coming down, Bartlett said, “The town owns two aerial bucket trucks that are ready to go, plus we’ve already reached out to our contractors to see how many crews they can provide, but here’s where it gets tricky. We’re assuming the roads will be passable from where the contractors are coming from. If they are, we’ll deploy them. If they are not and we have a coating of up to an inch of ice on the roads, we’ll need to reprioritize where our personnel are in terms of people we need for road salting and for tree maintenance.”

Bartlett says they are not responsible for electric wire issues – that would be United Illuminating. However, he said, “If wires start coming down, that creates additional issues for us. It requires us to block off roadways and notify the town and the power company. It really complicates things. Dead-ends are a bigger concern than a main road in terms of a tree or wire down because there is less access. With a main road, you have two sides of attack. Of course, with a main, you have an interruption of traffic flow. The mains will always be a priority so that we can enable the passage of emergency responders.”

Reached in Syracuse, NY, United States Postal Service Public Affairs Specialist Maureen Marion, whose responsibility is New England and upstate New York, said the USPS has its own challenges with icy conditions and plan of attack.

“We have a couple of tools at our disposal to deal with ice,” she said. “On the carrier side, that includes footwear with ice grippers to stabilize themselves on treacherous walkways, plus headwear, parkas and snowpants. There’s an initial uniform allowance for career employees and garments are added as seasons approach. Often, letter carriers share garments as their needs change. They look out for each other.”

Marion said the biggest concern this winter has been the USPS’ relationship with its communities and customers. “We need a clear road to go down and clean mailbox to access. We have found by and large people have been as cooperative as they can be but, that said, there are pockets of difficulty all around the region. For the carriers driving our vehicles, we need to snuggle right up to a box as it is too dangerous for our carriers to get out, walk around, dangle and potentially fall out of their seats. We can’t do anything that would cause the carrier to lose control of that vehicle. If we don’t have the clear access, we can’t deliver the mail and will hold it. For carriers that walk, we need to be able to get up front walks and driveways in a safe manner.”

On the electricity distribution front, United Illuminating, as of 10:40 a.m. Tuesday, was reporting only one Fairfield household power outage among 22,194 town customers served. Its site,, offered tips with regard to being prepared for a potential outage that included turning refrigerator/freezer dials to their coldest settings, unplugging sensitive electronic equipment and unplugging major appliances that are not in use. It also advised having working flashlights, a battery-operated radio, containers of bottled water, a first-aid kit and manual can opener.

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