Department Spotlight: Public Works & Winter Storms

Posted on Monday February 22, 2021
Ever wonder how Public Works prepares for and handles a storm? Our Superintendents explain their roles in this Department Spotlight.

Amid all the winter weather we’ve been having, we caught up with our Public Works Supervisors to find out more about the Department’s operations during winter storms.

During a storm, Public Works’ priorities are to plow and salt snow emergency routes - 25 miles of State roads and 2 miles of County roads needed for emergency use. Of the 103 miles of Township-owned roads, plows will next hit school bus routes and other roads used by Fire, Police, and EMS.  First responders also contact Public Works when they need to go out on a call, and crews will plow/salt a path for them to get there immediately. If necessary, a plow will lead an ambulance to the hospital. Back streets and cul-de-sacs are addressed last.

Public Works crews pre-salt bridges and overpasses the day before a storm, and salt trucks hit the roads when the flakes start falling. Crews spray Magnesium Chloride directly onto the salt as it is coming out of the saltbox, to help in low temperatures to prevent refreezing of the roads, and to cut down on how much salt is used.

Many hills, tight streets, double-sided parking, and non-trimmed tree-lined streets throughout Cheltenham make it tough to plow even in small storms.  Long hours of relentless strain on the trucks, transmissions, plow blades, frames, hoses, pistons, and cylinders of the plows sometimes causes breakdowns of equipment. When crews are pulled away for emergencies or need repairs, delays do occur. Manpower and road conditions are the determining factors in whether or not trash and recycling can be completed on schedule.

Chris Clewell, Public Works Superintendent, has been with Cheltenham Township for 31 years.  He stated the following regarding winter storms:

“I oversee the Highway, MS-4, Parks, Fleet, Traffic and Street Lights, and the Refuse and Recycling Departments. It is my duty to make sure that my Supervisors and staff have everything they need to fight a snow or ice storm. I also monitor manpower throughout a storm. In the big storm in early February 2021, many employees worked 48 hours straight just to keep our roads open for emergency vehicles. We recently utilized our Fire Marshal, Emergency Management Coordinator, a Sergeant of the Police Department, in addition to Public Works Superintendents, to plow when we have exhausted all of our in-house manpower on storms lasting multiple days.”

PW Spotlight 2  PW Spotlight 3

Each of the departments within Public Works has their own area of expertise and routine tasks to complete, but they come together to assist where needed during a snowstorm. Here’s what the supervisors had to say about their part in serving Cheltenham.

Jim Slade: Fleet Superintendent, with Cheltenham a little over 2 years

“When the snow isn’t falling, an average day in the Public Works Service Area involves making sure that the technicians repair all of the Police, Highway, EMS, Parks, and Refuse vehicles, as well as all other necessary equipment.

When inclement weather is pending, the priority of the garage is outfitting the Highway, Refuse and Parks equipment, used for daily tasks year-round, with plows and salting equipment.  Before each winter, the technicians make sure equipment is in great working condition.  During the snow season, Chris Clewell and Bo Coyle are very dedicated to utilizing and scheduling necessary staff to clean the roadways, repair broken equipment, and having the trash and recycling collected after the storms.”

Bo Coyle: Highway Superintendent, with Cheltenham 17.5 years

“Parks, Highway, and Refuse Dump trucks are utilized for salting/plowing, Refuse Packer trucks are not. Crews are staffed by Highway employees, with additional spots staffed by Refuse and Parks employees. Mechanics work in two main teams throughout the storm to ensure that there is a mechanic available at all times if we are plowing.  Plow and Salt truck drivers work as many hours as they safely can, and notify me or another supervisor an hour in advance when they are close to not being able to drive safely anymore, and we call in another driver. Employees work in three-person teams to cover the Township, which is divided into six sections with three subsections each.

When it’s not storming, every day can be different. The Highway Department handles the following tasks, among others:

  • Filling/patching potholes; restoring pavement markings; cleaning roads and road shoulders
  • Cleaning and rebuilding storm sewer lines and inlets
  • Installing and maintaining traffic signs
  • Fall loose leaf collections and weekly brush collections; grinding leaves and brush into compost for delivery to residents and area farms and nurseries
  • Removing dead animals and removing fallen trees from streets, creeks, and streams
  • Cutting grass on islands and township properties
  • Performing code enforcement cleanups

Bob Dominick: Parks Superintendent, with Cheltenham 5 years

“Prior to a storm, the Parks Department assists the Highway and Fleet Departments with installation of plows on Parks Department trucks. We prepare snow blowers and snow removal equipment so we are ready to go. Our main responsibility is to clear all sidewalks and paths at all Township Parks, Community Centers, Township Administration Building, Public Works Facility, and several other key thoroughfares.

Naturally, the most important concern at any time is to make our roadways, walkways, and facilities safe for the public. Depending on the severity of the storm, Parks Department staff may assist the Highway Department with clearing of the roadways. The great thing in Cheltenham is that no matter what needs to be done, all departments work together to get the job done.

When it is not snowing, there is still plenty to do in the winter months. We do a lot of tree trimming and removal, dormant hedge and shrub trimming, repairing playground equipment, fence repair, equipment maintenance, and other things.”

Joe Stuckert: Traffic Signal and Streetlight Superintendent, with Cheltenham over 3.5 years. 

“When winter weather is pending, my main focus is to make sure that the generators are ready in case of power outages that affect traffic signals during storms.  Otherwise, I take a support role, assisting where needed, whether that’s answering the phones in the office or assisting on the roads.  All of the Department Supervisors work extremely well together during bad weather events throughout the year and are committed to making sure employees have the equipment and materials needed to perform their jobs.”

Dennis Murphy: Refuse Superintendent, with Cheltenham over 30 years                                      

“When the weather is inclement and refuse pickup is suspended, most of my drivers will plow for the Highway Department.  The rest of my laborers will go to the Parks Department to help with the sidewalks. My department will also clear off the trash and recycling trucks, put chains on those trucks, and gas up for the next day.”

As one final question, we asked how residents can help Public Works crews be successful during a storm. Superintendent Chris Clewell left us with these final remarks:

“In a perfect world, I’d ask for all residents to park in the driveway during all snow storms, and even share your driveway with a neighbor (automatic shoveling helper!). If there is no space remaining in the driveway, park as close to the curb as possible and don’t double park.

We plow curb-to-curb wherever we can, to allow for optimal drainage when the snow melts and to keep roadways wide enough for cars to navigate around each other. This practice may result in snow blocking your driveway aprons and covering your sidewalks with snow - I apologize in advance. We don't want you doing twice the work; we understand that it’s hard work to shovel heavy snow, and know there are many seniors in the Township. For shoveling those areas, wait until the last truck passes your house. If you’re not sure whether we’ll be back, call us at 215-635-4600, and we’ll let you know.

Be a good neighbor. Help one another. Ask to help someone in need. That is what Cheltenham is all about.

PW Spotlight 1  PW Spotlight 4

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