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Working through winter

BY CAROLINE EGGERS - ceggers@perutribune.com

Working in the cold is no easy job.

Frostbite, hypothermia or just simply pain are all very real things that come with being outside in below-freezing conditions for extended periods of time.

And for some professions, staying indoors is not an option.

Utility employees

“When the weather is bad, they’ve got it bad,” said Peru Utilities Safety Manager Lee France.

Electricians and water technicians still have to perform all of their normal maintenance routines, in addition to the winter-related jobs that inevitable accompany a drop in temperatures.

For electricians, that usually includes fixing utility poles that citizens have hit when sliding off road during snowy or icy driving conditions. “That’s a common occurrence,” France said.

Ice builds up on lines, and high winds can also cause downed wires. 

That can require workers to be lifted up 40 feet into the air, and into the wind.

When temperatures get below 10 degrees, or below 15 degrees with a 20 mph wind, then Peru Utilities starts limiting their employees’ activities.

“If there’s an emergency, that all goes out the window,” France said, such as when people lose their power.

So the utility company takes safety precautions.

Utility workers must wear fire-retardant clothing, so they can’t wear Under Armor or other similar bottom layers. But they’re encouraged to wear many layers of wool or cotton, plus special boots and waterproof clothing for the water technicians.

“If there’s a piece of clothing we can get for them, we get it for them,” France said.

Even when they’re working in water in 40 degree temperatures, they still have to watch for hypothermia, he said.

Peru Utilities also sends teams of two people per job, that way they can rotate in and out of the van when necessary.

France teaches the workers to be wary of extremes, like drastic temperature changes. “If it’s 30 degrees one day and 15 the next day, that’s a drastic drop,” he said. The same can go for 15 degrees one day, and 15 degrees with 20 mph winds the next day – even though bodies are able to manage 10 degree days back to back, they aren’t prepared for drastic changes.

Another simple, but crucial tip, is staying well hydrated, France said.

Police officers

Peru Police Officers can’t put on innumerable layers to beat the cold. 

Officers are allow to wear essential gloves, winter coats, vests and even partial face masks, but their uniform and their identity always have to be recognizable.

“People have to know we’re police officers,” said PPD Chief Mike Meeks said.

The PPD doesn’t provide any specific clothing anymore beyond an insulated police jacket, but at one time provided “Elmer Fudd” hats with blue fur. Officer Dan Sofianos still wears his from the 1990s.

Very few days through the year, Meeks will allow the officers to cover themselves more fully to protect against the cold. But it’s “rare that we let them go out of uniform,” Meeks said.

Some police officers work the third shift, between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., when temperatures are at their coldest.

Meeks said there is generally less crime during the winter months, as there are less people out and about. But officers are still out patrolling, directing traffic, responding to the increased number of wrecks, and even unlocking cars for citizens – which always happens on the warmest or coldest days of the year, Meeks said.

While directing traffic, it’s cold and there are greater safety hazards for officers as vehicles could slide.

The cold “makes it more challenging,” said Sgt. Samantha Raber, while responding last week to a car crash at the intersection of Broadway Street and 3rd Street when it was six degrees below zero.

But the cold doesn’t deter them from doing the job, Meeks said. “They’re still out patrolling just as much.”

“They’re tough,” Meeks said.


The Miami County EMA may not spend as much time outside, but they monitor the weather and help determine when we need weather advisories.

“If we anticipate severe weather, like snowfall or ice, we report to the state, and the Indiana Department of Homeland Security,” said Miami County EMA Director Kristopher Marks.

Thus far, Miami County has issued two yellow winter weather advisories, including one yesterday morning. Icy, slushy road conditions led to many slide-offs and wrecks, according to Marks.

Peru Community and Maconaquah Schools were closed on Monday, and North Miami students didn’t start their second semester until today.

Yellow is when conditions are dangerous, orange is when schools or busses begin making emergency plans, and red is “when you got pretty bad overall stretch of things,” Marks said. Red can mean major highways getting totally shut down, and signals a disaster declaration.

“Usually we’ll go orange, but red is pretty serious,” Marks said.

Citizens can check the Indiana county travel advisory map at www.in.gov/dhs. “I’d imagine we’d have some more (advisories) before the winter is over with,” Marks said.

Marks recommends that citizens have enough food and water for three days to sustain yourself.

“Because if you lose power, especially during a blizzard, emergency vehicles are still vehicles,” Marks said. “You’ve got to have your own personal plans.”

Working in the cold brings many problems – falling on the ice is a hazard even of itself.

Anyone working outside for prolonged periods may experience cold stress, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

This could mean something as little as shivering while alert, or something as severe as shivering stops, confusion, slurred speech, heart rate/breathing slowness, and loss of consciousness, according to OSHA.

The safety administration lists cold stress risk factors as wetness, dressing improperly, exhaustion, predisposing health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism, and diabetes, and poor physical conditioning.

OSHA recommends that employers monitor workers’ physical conditions during cold conditions, especially if they’re new to the job.

Mail carriers

“It’s a really hard job,” said Peru Postal Worker Kelsey Graber, who endures long days outside to deliver mail.

Some days she feels like she has cinder blocks on her feet, but overall she enjoys what she does – and understands that it’s a big responsibility.

Sometimes, the cold really “hurts your face” though, she said. Last Monday, it was five degrees colder in Miami County than it was at a South Pole Station in Antarctica.

She’s grateful for the community support, however.

“People are really nice and helpful,” Graber said. Some folks plow their lots or clear their sidewalks. “We appreciate it more than they know.”