Snowy sidewalks don’t clear themselves


Editor’s Note: On Jan. 22, staff writer Andy Medici accompanied Pitt crews responding to a… Editor’s Note: On Jan. 22, staff writer Andy Medici accompanied Pitt crews responding to a snowstorm.

Snow fell last night.

By 2 p.m., it had blanketed the parked cars, sidewalks and roads. The temperature that flickers across the lit sign at Eureka Bank on Forbes Avenue and McKee Place reads 21 degrees. This kind of weather forces people indoors and causes local news stations to panic. Since late last night, a crew has worked to keep roads and parking lots clear for students and commuters who expect nothing less.

David Heintzinger, 40, is dressed for the weather in a heavy, green-and-blue jacket, matched with a pair of faded blue jeans. The light beard that covers the lower half of his face may also help to stave off the cold. An icy wind blows through the open window of his super-duty pick-up truck as the attached plow shoves snow to the edges of the lot behind Salk Hall.

Heintzinger’s job as grounds manager at Pitt means he is responsible for clearing the roads and parking lots owned by the University — even on Saturdays, like today. He has been working since 7 a.m., directing the efforts of about 25 people in plowing the fresh snow. He plans to work a 12-hour shift, and more, if needed.

“There is nothing glorious about this job,” Heintzinger says as he sips from his can of caffeine-free Coke. He mentions that the entire campus must be cleared by Monday.

The sound of a talk show from KDKA, 1020 AM, becomes part of the background noise as Heintzinger checks the Old Cemetary lot, on upper campus, to make sure all the parking spaces are clear. Continuing snowfall makes this task a lot more difficult.

“It’s kind of like an endless task,” Heintzinger says. “Nobody really thanks us. They just yell at us, and cars honk their horns at us.” He remembers a time when he enjoyed this work, but now it cuts into time he spends with his wife and his two daughters, one 10 and one 3 years old.

“It kind of destroys your family life a little,” he says. His daughters would ask him to help them build a snowman, he recalls, but he needed to work instead. He quickly plows around a white Toyota Corolla CE model, which prevents him from clearing all the parking spaces.

University Drive and Bouquet Street demand constant attention, but equally important are the OC lot and the areas around the Cathedral of Learning. Heintzinger has nine trucks and some tractors at his disposal, as well as seven small, green, enclosed carts called gators.

He picks up his car radio and makes sure someone will salt the lots around the Fitzgerald Field House before a 7 p.m. event.

Heintzinger finishes plowing and pulls out a binder to mark down the lot and what time he finished plowing it. He says he needs to keep excellent paperwork, in case someone says they didn’t do it after “someone slips and falls.”

While on University Drive, Heintzinger is waved down by a man in a gator who wants a break. This is met by a joking, “What, are you hungry?” and immediately followed by Heintzinger calling on his radio to fill the spot that has been opened.

Meanwhile, it has stopped snowing and many of the cleared parking lots need to be salted. Richard Veitch, 50, draws on knowledge gained from being with facilities management for 30 years, as he explains that if areas are salted too soon, the snow will just cover them up again.

“That would be nice if we don’t get anymore snow. We could have this cleared up tonight, or halfway through tomorrow,” Veitch says, making a sweeping gesture indicating the entire campus. “It’s just a vicious cycle. That’s what I hate about these all-day storms.”

A motorized spreader on the back of his pick-up truck allows him to spread salt over three parking lots before he needs to refill. The buttons and switches needed to operate the spreader and plow make the dashboard look more like the cockpit of a plane than that of a car.

Veitch reveals that many of the people who plow the roads and parking lots used to be janitors, and were able to assume these jobs through a bidding process. Facilities management also handles landscaping and equipment repair.

Although Veitch has worked with facilities management for 30 years, he can’t retire yet, but he will as soon as he gets the chance.

Veitch plans on working a 14-hour day, and although it is hard, he admits “that overtime is good,” even if he has to work long hours. Benefits also include free tuition for his 13-year-old son, if he decides to go to Pitt.

“It’s hard to beat that benefit,” Veitch says.

The areas around the Cathedral, including sidewalks and steps, are kept clear with the use of gators. The small, green carts can have attached plows or brushes, depending on the situation. Andy Kunsman, 43, drives one of the gators around the Cathedral, clearing the slush and mud from the sidewalks.

The bumping ride and the jarring stops don’t concern Kunsman, whose biggest concern is avoiding students, some of whom can’t hear the loud gator because of headphones.

Kunsman sees that one student thought she was going to be hit, so he opens the door and apologizes. “We do scare some people. We apologize because we don’t want to scare anyone or make them think we are reckless,” he says.

Despite the cramped space, Kunsman looks perfectly at home in green cargo pants, a blue sweater jacket and a pair of old, white gloves. Kunsman skirts a denim-clad student tapping a pack of cigarettes.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Kunsman appreciates that his bosses and co-workers understand what the city is like, and that most have families. Kunsman has four children, ranging from 11 to 21 years old, and he worries that without an education, they may get involved with drugs or crime.

A man stepping out of a red Honda almost hits the passing gator, and Kunsman comments on the safety of the gators, noting that one man was hospitalized recently after an accident.

According to Kunsman, a car ran a red light and hit Dan Furer, who was taken to UPMC Presbyterian and is being treated for injuries to the head and neck. “Some of them don’t even care, they want to get through, they want to get through,” Kunsman says.

Kunsman makes several circuits around the Cathedral, using the small plow attached to the gator to clear the sidewalks, wheelchair ramps and the crossing area on Bigelow Boulevard. Kunsman also plans to work most of the day to clear the rest of the walkways, and he comments on how difficult the jobs are for people clearing the snow.

“If anyone wants to try our jobs, they are more than welcome to,” he says, summing up his philosophy on how much work is enough. “What are you going to do but keep pushing ’til you get it done?”

Heintzinger continues to direct the snow-clearing effort, and praises the people he works with. “They are a good bunch of dedicated guys. They will do what it takes to make it safe for people,” Heintzinger says.

Heintzinger passes by the construction of the Biomedical Science Tower III and says that the new building will also have to be cleared and plowed once it is finished.

“Everything they finish, we have to maintain,” Heintzinger says.

As he drives away to continue his rounds, it begins to snow.