Outside workers brave frigid temperatures

PARKERSBURG – Even as temperatures struggle to stay above zero and the wind chill plunges below, some folks have to stay outside to do their jobs.

“We double-layer clothes and stop and get in the truck and warm up quite often,” said Harold Workman, owner of Alpha Air in Ripley. “It probably slows production by half.”

Alpha Air provides service for heating and cooling systems, which often requires Workman to be outdoors to work on heat pumps, natural gas lines and the like.

On Monday, temperatures dropped from 45 degrees at midnight to 8 degrees at 7 a.m., 5 degrees around 4 p.m. and a projected low of 7 below zero overnight. Those conditions can bring a risk of frostbite and hypothermia, so workers out in the elements must take precautions.

Often, Workman and his employees have to go without one common layer of protection as they work with circuits and wires.

“It takes finesse … so you can’t hardly wear gloves,” he said.

Workman expects demand for his services to increase today and Wednesday, as people who discovered problems with their systems upon getting home from work Monday schedule appointments.

In times of high demand like that, Workman asks that customers refrain from calling multiple HVAC companies and then using the first to respond. Dispatching workers to jobs for which they’re ultimately turned down costs valuable time.

“It slows the process down for everybody,” he said. “Even if it’s my competition, stick with ’em.”

The maintenance staff at Sunset Memory Gardens in Parkersburg is another group that can’t put off their work for a warmer day. The cemetery and adjoining funeral home had three burials and services slated for Monday, and another today.

“People schedule burials based upon when it’s convenient for the family and when weather hits, it hits and you’ve already got family in from out of town,” said Joann Combs, general manager of Sunset Memory Gardens.

Sometimes families will forgo graveside services because of “brutally cold” conditions, Combs said. Heavy wind gusts make it impossible to set up the tent that usually offers some protection from the elements.

But the maintenance staff must still fill in the graves, as they did Monday wearing layers of clothing so they could remove a layer if they got too hot while working. It takes half an hour to an hour to fill in a grave, said Mike Daugherty, maintenance supervisor, and sometimes an extra person or two is added to the two-man crew so the workers can take breaks inside.

Recent freezing and thawing will likely create more work for the Parkersburg Utility Board in terms of water line breaks, said manager Eric Bennett. Crews were out Monday morning repairing breaks on Hill Avenue and Elder Street.

“They dress appropriately, and we keep trucks running so they can get warm,” he said. “If we’ve got a big job, we’ll have multiple people there so they can switch out.”

It’s important to stay dry, and Bennett said better waders have been developed to assist in that endeavor, thanks in part to the fishing industry.

Staying dry is also important for tow truck drivers responding to wrecks in wintry conditions, said Mike Pifer, owner of Pifer’s Service Center in Parkersburg.

“And if it does get wet, have something dry to switch” into, he said.

Additional workers are often dispatched to help out, especially in situations where police aren’t able to help with traffic control due to dealing with multiple accidents.

“When it’s cold like this, we will double up or one truck will meet another truck there,” Pifer said.

The Wood County Sheriff’s Office has temporarily changed its uniform policy to allow deputies the option of wearing battle dress uniforms instead of the traditional wardrobe, said Chief Deputy Shawn Graham.

“This option gives the deputies a chance to layer their clothing so they can stay warmer while performing their duties,” said Graham.

The Wood County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement Monday evening advising that people should avoid going out in the cold unless they absolutely must, said Graham. When people do go out, the sheriff’s office recommends wearing multiple layers of clothing, especially on children.

The Wood County Sheriff’s Office encouraged residents to keep their children and pets indoors during the extreme cold, Graham said.

Pets that are normally housed outdoors should be brought in to the house or an attached garage for their safety, Graham said.

In case of a power outage in Wirt County, designated warming centers have been established for residents to use, said Wirt County Office of Emergency Services Director Edwin L. “Bo” Wriston.

The following centers have been placed on standby in Wirt County to keep the population warm should the power fail: the Wirt County Senior Citizens Building, the Coplin Clinic, the Elizabeth/Wirt Volunteer Fire Department, and the Wirt County Courthouse. The Red Cross will be able to activate the Elizabeth Baptist Church if overnight sheltering is needed.

Residents who report to the warming centers are encouraged to bring their pets along, said Wriston. Provide your own pet food, food dishes, and applicable litter or bathroom items for your pet, Wriston said.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office issued a level two weather emergency, advising all residents to stay indoors unless travel is absolutely necessary. Workers should call ahead to see whether they should report to work or remain home.

From about 6:30 p.m. through 9 p.m. Monday, 3,000 customers in Jackson County experienced a weather-related power outage, according to Jackson County 911 Communications.