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Cold? What Cold? AFSCME Members Kept Working Through The Deep Freeze

Photo Credit: Scott Olson / Getty
Cold? What Cold? AFSCME Members Kept Working Through The Deep Freeze
By Namita Waghray and Lisa Martin ·
Tags: Our Stories
Cold? What Cold? AFSCME Members Kept Working Through The Deep Freeze
Pictured: Vincent Gartin. Photo Credit: Juwaan Williams

As the Midwest and the Northeast plunged into an Arctic freeze and the weather turned downright dangerous, AFSCME members like Vincent Gartin continued to serve their communities – with grit warming their hearts and layers of clothing warming their bodies.

Here’s how Gartin, a snow plow operator and AFSCME Local 725 member, described the preparations for last week’s polar vortex-induced frigidity in Indianapolis: “It’s like preparing for Thanksgiving Dinner. You don’t just wake up in the morning and start eating. You plan your menu, pick out your recipes, make your lists, and go to the store multiple times to make sure you have everything you need.”

“We keep our 30,000-pound trucks stocked with salt, and the plow attachments working. We practice and prep for days just like this so when it happens, we just put on extra layers, and get out there and get the work done,” he added.

Gartin worked with the Indianapolis Fire Department to help community residents. Here’s one example of how his assistance helped save lives: On Wednesday, when temperatures plummeted to -41 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind chill, firefighters were unable to connect to a frozen hydrant and put out a fire. Gartin and his crew salted a leaking fire hydrant and defrosted the water pipes, allowing the firefighters to save a burning home.

Other AFSCME members across the Midwest and the Northeast went about their important work as much of the region was frozen. Thousands of public service workers made sure the streets and highways were clean; schools were safe for children to learn in; and sidewalks, ramps and other public spaces for the elderly and disabled were safe to use.   

Gerald Cox, head custodian at Eakin Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio, and a member of OAPSE was on the job throughout the deep freeze with fellow custodians and other environmental service engineers. They worked around the clock to make sure that the school building stayed heated and pipes didn’t freeze so schools could resume without any problems. 

Josh Keller, a zookeeper at the Columbus Zoo and member of AFSCME Local 2950 (Council 8), kept the wolverines, reindeer and other animals safe during the -20 degree freeze.

In Western New York, CSEA members like Sonia Tafoya kept local roads free of ice and snow – and free of danger for motorists.

Gartin said public service workers take their work personally and do it with pride – no matter how poor the conditions.  

“We don’t just work for the city,” he said. “We use the roads and so do our families and people we care about. My elderly uncle needs to go to the doctor – he can’t stay home just because it is cold out. My work doesn't stop just because of the cold temperatures.”

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