Mike Fenwick had to pull an all-nighter on Christmas Eve, but it wasn't because he was out buying last-minute gifts or wrapping presents till dawn. No, Oak Park's streets superintendent was busy battling snow here, when he should have been at his Glenview home waiting for Santa.
It was around 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve that the fluffy white stuff started clogging Oak Park's streets, according to Fenwick. And it didn't stop till sometime Sunday afternoon, the day after Noel. Fenwick worked the night shift, about 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Christmas, and returned later that day to do it all over again.
It wasn't until Sunday morning that Fenwick and his family were able to open presents. He says, however, that they weren't mad and knew that the strange hours come with the territory.
"That's part of the job," Fenwick said. "They know that what we do is important."
Supervisors such as Fenwick are on salary, but the other drivers were paid handsomely for their Christmas plowing efforts. Oak Park plunks down double pay per hour for those who work the eve and day of the holiday, according to Public Works Director John Wielebnicki. That translates to about $50 an hour for most employees.
With 25 snowplows and two crews of 10 on the streets over the weekend, Wielebnicki estimates that Oak Park had to pay about $25,000 in overtime this past weekend to keep village streets passable.
"It couldn't have come at a worse time in terms of the labor costs, because it was all on overtime," he said, not to mention that you have to bring "folks away from their families" on a holiday, he added.
But the village has tried to budget carefully so it isn't caught off guard by huge overtime costs. So far this year, Wielebnicki says Oak Park is right on pace with its overtime budget of $137,000 for snow removal.
Thankfully, the forecast later this week is calling for temperatures in the 40s, and the village will likely be able to stave off any other big snow events in 2010, Wielebnicki said. He, too, was on the phone during the Christmas weekend, and said it takes an understanding companion to have a job in public works.
"They're never totally OK with it, but you have to have a really understanding wife to be in this business," he said. "Sometimes they just don't like it, but it just comes with the territory."
Altogether, Wielebnicki estimated that Oak Park got about 4 inches of snow over the weekend. Reports of snowy weather were trickling in mid last week, so they were expecting that workers would have to come in over the holiday. In total, crews had to plow and salt about 250 miles worth of streets, including each lane, and 30 miles of alleys, which wrapped up Monday.
Fenwick was happy with the results, and said crews were OK with sacrificing their holidays to keep things safe.
"We understand our responsibility to the residents, so everybody steps up," he said. "They know how important it is to keep the roadways safe. We take it very seriously."
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