Snow-removal crew plows path forward to mission

  • Published
  • By Caroline Clauson
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- When flurries start falling and thousands of employees are due to line up at the gates, the 88th Civil Engineer Squadron’s job requires strategy, speed and a lot of shovels.

Even before Wright-Patterson Air Force Base meteorologists predict winter weather, the 88 CES Pavements, Equipment and Grounds crew is always prepared to take proactive measures ahead of the storm during cold months.

“When you’re moving snow, you see progress,” said Erik Miesse, the Area B Pavement, Equipment and Grounds supervisor. “Once you get that street cleared and you see that nice clean asphalt again, you’ve accomplished something.”

The squadron’s Snow and Ice Control Plan outlines annual training and assigns personnel and equipment to areas and shifts for 24-hour operations should the clouds darken.

The team, composed of Area A and B sections, is responsible for treating, maintaining, and clearing snow and ice from 120 miles of roads, 12.5 million square feet of parking lots, and 283,000 square feet of sidewalks, stairs and flightline.

The crew prioritizes each road and parking lot by how critical it is to the mission, Miesse said. The flightline, medical facilities and 24-hour centers receive attention first, and the team finishes with sidewalks and stairs.

Workers start operating in alternating 12.5-hour on-call shifts in early November, and a snowy forecast never means a warm day or even night at home for the team like it does for most base personnel.

“I work the A shift, which is the midnight to noon shift,” Miesse said. “If they say we have snow coming at 1 o’clock in the morning, you go home and try to get some sleep to be back here by midnight. It makes that first night pretty hard. If it extends weeklong, that’s when your body is tired of everything.”

Nonetheless, 88 CES looks on the brighter side of blizzards.

“Just that accomplishment of completing a task is what I enjoy,” Miesse said. “Plus, you get around the big equipment. We’re all kids at heart. We like to play in the snow.”

Miesse also said he and his teammates witness rare displays in the sky they would miss indoors.

“Once, I saw snow lightning,” Miesse said. “I was sitting in the machine running the equipment, and everything lit up like something exploded. Another time, Ospreys were flying in, and it was pretty cool to see them in the snow.”

The crew plays a large role in the chain of information that determines whether a delay or snow day is called, joining the 3 a.m. call with Col. Patrick Miller, 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander, as well as the 88th Security Force Squadron, Base Weather Station and local authorities to discuss the decision.

Often, the decision depends on how quickly snow-removal crews estimate they can finish clearing the flightline and essential roads.

A stock of dump trucks, front-end loaders, backhoes, skid loaders and tractors arm the crews to work as efficiently as possible. The Area B crew alone works through 1,000 tons of salt, about one full salt barn, in a normal winter season, Miesse said.

But snowstorms threaten more than base roads. Winter weather poses hidden and collateral challenges that never disturb most Airmen and assets, thanks to 88 CES.

“There are a lot of roof issues like the roof leaks and your storm drains get backed up just because of the snow that is melting,” Miesse said. “Last winter, I got called to come back in after a big snow event because the snow at the museum was piled on the roofs. If it starts to warm up a little bit, the snow rolls down between two building walls, melts and penetrates into the buildings. Well, where it was going to go in, they have computers stored.”

Miesse offered advice to help new and seasoned employees alike stay safe and lighten the load on 88 CES snow crews while they do their job during the winter.

“When you come on base and see the snow equipment, give them room when they’re coming through,” he said. “Slow down, and be cautious on the hills. Try to park in an area that has already been plowed so we can plow the other parts.

“Please follow delay procedures. It’s delayed because we’re not ready for traffic to drive on base.”

Finally, Miesse reminded the base community to understand the vastness of cleaning up after nature’s unpredictable gifts on an Air Force base. 

“Just be patient,” he said. “We have a lot to do, and we don’t have a whole lot of people to do it.”