Plow Veteran’s Prep Work Pays Off

Thomas Breen photoAs the snow finallly transitioned from a light flurry to a heavier fall late Tuesday morning, Al Miller shifted from the prep work of spreading salt to actually bringing his truck’s plow blade to the ground to keep downtown streets clear.

At 2 a.m. on Tuesday, Miller, 63, a 19-year public works veteran, began his snow plow shift for the Department of Public Works (DPW) as the third Nor’easter to hit the Elm City in two weeks began to make its descent.

The city announced yesterday that it anticipated this storm would bring 6-10 inches of snow and wind gusts of up to 45 miles per hour. DPW planned to have 40 trucks out clearing snow throughout the storm.

The snow ended up arriving later than expected. There was still work to do.

From 2-10 a.m., Miller circled around Elm Street, Chapel Street, and other major downtown streets, dropping small piles of salt along the middle of the road so that passing traffic would pick up the clearing material and carry it the duration of the route.

His prep work paid off. As the snow began to pick up around 10:30 a.m., Miller saw that heavily trafficked streets like Elm, Chapel, York, and State were clear and black, the double lines visible in the middle of the road, even as the edges of each street steadily shaded white with new snow.

“We’re ahead of it now,” he said, checking his side view mirrors as he spread a bit more salt along Park Street.

Miller said that the most important thing to do as a snow plow prepping for heavy snowfall is to make sure that the double lines in the middle of the road are clear. He said that he would circle back later in the morning and early afternoon to start clearing snow from the edges of the streets. The city’s parking ban downtown is scheduled to last through 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Tuesday morning was far from Miller’s first time out in the snow. A native of New Bern, N.C., Miller moved to Newhallville as a kid and graduated from Wilbur Cross.

In his two decades with DPW, Miller has worked as a laborer, patching potholes, repairing catch basins, and riding the back of the city garbage trucks. He plans on retiring this upcoming September. (His wife teaches kindergarten at Beecher School.)

For most of his career at DPW, Miller has worked as the head snow plow driver and street sweeper downtown, winding his Sterling plow truck through the main arterials and narrow side streets between State Street, Trumbull Street, Park Street, and North Frontage Road.

His domain includes a number of critical pathways for emergency vehicles and public transit, including the police headquarters on Union Avenue, the central fire station on Grand Avenue, the senior residential center Tower One/Tower East, Yale New-Haven Hospital, and the main downtown bus routes along Temple Street and Chapel Street.

Along Tower Parkway and Broadway, the streets were looking pretty clear along Miller’s run. But by the time that Miller got over to Church Street and then Temple Street, long clumps of snow were beginning to cover the streets.

Miller lowered the blade of his plow and started to push the snow to the sides. The blade bumped and ground along the piles of snow. Looking in his side view mirrors, Miller saw nothing but clear, black asphalt behind him.

At around 11 a.m., Miller drove over to the DPW facility to refill on salt and gas. He said that he would likely need a salt refill at least one more time before the snow was up.

Parked out front of a cavernous warehouse filled with salt, Miller waited as a colleague in a payloader lifted masses of new clearing material into the back of Miller’s truck. With a honk and a wave of appreciation, Miller left Middletown Avenue to return downtown, and to pick up where he left off keeping the city streets clear of snow.

“Everything I do here is what I like to do,” Miller said as he reflected on his two decades working with DPW to keep city streets clean. “I give the city the best I can give them.”

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