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Dan Hust | Democrat

Steve Dworetsky of Ferndale has spent more than three decades plowing snow out of the way of Sullivan County residents, and he could be found on Thursday doing the same with a state plow truck on routes 17B and 97.

Out in the storm - and loving it

By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY — March 2, 2010 — Think Thursday and Friday’s storm was rough?
For Steve Dworetsky, it was just another enjoyable day on the job.
“Sit back, you’re in the ‘Cadillac,’ ” he said, welcoming the rare passenger to his 2002 International plow truck’s warm cab.
First, a few ground rules, he admonished: put a seatbelt on, and never, ever try to jump out of the truck, no matter what.
A rookie trainee almost did that, Dworetsky recalled, when he thought the truck was about to crash. (It didn’t.)
The gigantic wing of Truck #025086 of the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) would seem to prohibit that feat – and why worry?
“Look at the steel around us,” Dworetsky pointed out, noting that we were sitting in a 70,000-pound behemoth when fully loaded.
With greetings and guidelines out of the way, the diesel engine roared into action, pulling us out onto Route 52 in Kenoza Lake, where the DOT’s western Sullivan County yard is located.
Switches were flicked, buttons were pushed, levers were thrown, and within seconds, we were scooping snow off the road and laying a mixture of 90 percent salt and 10 percent sand behind us, lights blazing a path through the wind-whipped night.
A state of emergency may have existed across the county that Thursday evening, but as Dworetsky put it, “there’s no safer place to be than right here.”
Credit more than the truck. Dworetsky’s title may be Highway Maintenance Worker Trainee II, but that’s only because he’s worked part-time for the state for the past two years.
For the 31 years before that, the Ferndale resident served as a plow truck operator with the Sullivan County Division of Public Works (DPW), clearing the roads around Monticello.
Retirement, however, didn’t keep him out of a truck cab, and for the past two winters Dworetsky has put his skills to work as temporary help on state roads.
This winter, his run has consisted of Route 17B from Fosterdale to Callicoon, the Delaware River bridge connecting Callicoon to Pennsylvania, and Route 97 from Callicoon to Long Eddy.
From 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. five and sometimes seven days a week, he’s either plowing these approximately 35 miles (round trip) or keeping the truck in tip-top shape.
And giving and getting some good-natured jabs from his coworkers.
“These guys are a lot of fun,” he said. “Basically, it’s a college fraternity scene till the job has to get done.”
No, they’re not goofing off when they should be working, or damaging equipment owned by the taxpayers.
They’re simply making jokes and letting off steam between runs on what Dworetsky admitted is a “super-stressful job.”
“The snow is the easy part,” he remarked.
The ever-present roar of the engine and plow blades gets into your head, he said, even with the radio and heat fan blasting.
Though it’s 12 hours on/12 hours off, shifts can feel longer. That’s especially true when guys are headed out for one storm after another, missing their families, their personal lives, their natural de-stressers.
And when the precipitation turns to ice, well, “you become a toboggan with wheels,” Dworetsky grimly explained.
Not even a heavy plow truck – complete with chains automatically applied by throwing a switch – can always navigate across ice without sliding.
And safety is Dworetsky’s primary goal, for others as well as himself.
“We’re here for one purpose,” he explained. “To make sure everyone gets home safely.”
That includes more than you might think. On Thursday, for example, Dworetsky laid down extra salt and sand for a tractor-trailer stuck on a hill on Route 97 near Hankins.
“Just sit tight,” he told the driver after stopping next to him. “We’ll get you going.”
Dworetsky then paced the truck all the way to Callicoon, scraping the road clean with carbide-tipped blades. In the process, he not only removed a rather large obstacle blocking the road, he allowed the driver to make a much-needed delivery of salt to the Tusten town highway department.
And he did that twice on Thursday.
He’s certainly come across many an accident in his career, and as a former volunteer EMT, he’s not interested in discussing the gory details.
But Dworetsky can assure all drivers that if they’re hurt or in serious trouble, he’s got a radio and cellphone he’ll put to use – not to mention a first aid kit.
His job, first and foremost, is to ensure everyone’s safety by clearing the roads, including for the ambulance corps and fire companies whose primary responsibility is to render aid.
But if he needs to stop and help – like he and a foreman did for a guy who flipped his car earlier this winter – he’ll do so.
Even if you’re the no-good bum who passed Dworetsky in a reckless bid to get home “faster.”
“There’s a good chance they’ll end up in the ditch,” he remarked matter-of-factly.
He pointed at the truck’s speedometer, noting an average speed of about 27 MPH, never higher than 35 MPH.
“There’s a reason we’re going slow,” he said. “Don’t try to go around us.”
It takes an individual of patience and calmness to do Dworetsky’s job, especially when drivers around you are anything but. He’s grateful to work with a similarly-minded crew of 12 at the Kenoza Lake yard – and dozens more at the other DOT yards, the county DPW, and the town highway departments.
“Everybody’s working together,” he said.
They leave their worries, their sacrifices, their problems at the yard, day after day, night after night, instead taking with them out on the road their skills at keeping a wing plow from striking a guardrail, keeping the truck in a position where it can do the best job, keeping traffic in mind at all times, and keeping fatigue at bay.
And most of all, keeping people safe.
“This is the whole name of the game,” Dworetsky relayed with a grin born of his love of the job.
“You get ‘em home.”
Special thanks to the DOT’s David Hamburg, Don Pencek, John Hulse and, of course, Steve Dworetsky for letting us tag along on a stormy winter’s night.

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