Not all can lounge with a cup of coffee on snow days

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Thursday, December 10, 2009
— Shirley Connors and Troy Knudson kept in touch from their offices during the wee hours of Wednesday morning, grabbing catnaps on the floor and a recliner.

Firefighter Bill Ruchti took over someone else’s shift on Tuesday night to make sure he’d be there the next morning.

And snowplow operators catnapped on cots at the city services center so they would be ready for action.

Emergency workers can’t declare it a snow day and lounge at home in their slippers and robes. They must report to work to keep others safe.

Ruchti, shift commander at Janesville fire station No. 1, lives in Brodhead, and his shift starts at 6 a.m.

“If it’s going to be really bad, the roads aren’t always the best at 5 in the morning,” he said. “So I choose to come in early so I make sure I make it. We don’t play late at the fire department.”

On bad nights, Ruchti offers to let the other shift commander go home. Or, he’ll find an empty bed or couch.

Other firefighters sometimes report earlier than usual because they never know how long it will take them to get in. Or, they’ll arrange a short-term trade with those already at the station so they can help their families dig out.

Troy Knudson, commander at the Rock County Sheriff’s department, was at a town board meeting Tuesday night representing the sheriff’s office.

“As I left, I realized I could make it to work or make it home,” Knudson said.

He lives in Newark Township, and some of the back roads are a struggle to navigate.

“If I went home, the chances of making it to work were pretty minimum,” he said.

So he worked until about 11:30 p.m. He wandered around the office, but there were no good couches to be had. So he slept for a while on his office floor.

He could have opted for a jail cell.

“But I wanted to make sure I could get out in the morning,” he joked.

The non-essential sheriff’s office workers were able to stay home, but all the emergency workers made it in, Knudson said.

At least one correctional officer who lives in Stoughton stayed in a motel down the road.

Meanwhile, Shirley Connors, Rock County emergency management coordinator, used an old recliner someone hauled into her office in the health care center. She is the liaison between the county and state and other emergency organizations such as the Red Cross.

At about noon Wednesday, Connors was winding down after being up all night.

Citywide, many snowplow drivers came in around noon Tuesday.

Some catnapped on cots, and others worked on equipment, John Whitcomb, operations director, said.

Whitcomb prefers that workers nap at work rather than at home.

People sleep “just about anywhere they can find some dark and some quiet,” which is not too hard when all the trucks are out, he said.

Elsewhere, Anna McCarthy, administrator at Huntington Place, said the facility for older people has four-wheel-drive trucks to pick up workers who can’t get in. Or, workers still at work will pick up a few extra hours to cover for those who are stranded. The facility also has a staff pool of workers from which to draw.

“We make sure we provide the same care on a snow day as any other day to meet the needs of our residents,” McCarthy said.

Janesville police officers were too busy Wednesday to say how they weathered the storm.

“It’s just one of those days,” said an officer who answered the phone.

Some might consider restaurant personnel to be emergency workers.

Milio’s Sandwiches on Racine Street was open until 10 a.m. Tuesday and again at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

“As long as your roads were plowed, we’ll get to you,” said manager Tracy Larussa. “The side streets were kind of impossible.”

The McDonald’s Restaurant on Milton Avenue managed to stay open 24 hours.

But the manager was too busy on Wednesday to say how they did it.

Last updated: 12:13 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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