Less than a week after Colorado Springs hit a three-day streak of record high temperatures the city's snow plow team revved up their engines to prepare clearing snow-packed roads.
More than 100 drivers gathered Wednesday to learn how to operate their plows, load and dispense de-icing materials and change plow blades.
Drivers pirouetted trucks around a course of orange cones, fired up an oxygen torch to cut off bolts that hold the blades onto the plow and studied how to swap a worn out blade.
"Snow is just around the corner," Corey Farkas, manager for the city's Public Works Operations and Maintenance Division, said. "It's something that is very important for our operators to get back into the swing of plowing snow and taking care of our roadways out there."
While Colorado Springs hit a record high temperature Sept. 9, last year the city saw snow on Sept. 8. On top of the early snow, drivers missed out on the two-day annual training days because of COVID-19. That's why this year's training is important to get plow operators up to speed, Farkas said.
"We really look at our veterans to be able to help out our new hires in passing on that insider knowledge that they have with our program and with our streets out there," Farkas said.
One veteran is Kevin Scranton, a supervisor for the city's south district said the job can be "brutal" running on little sleep for a 12-hour shift.
"I think this (program) is a big benefit to all the new guys," Scranton said. "It kind of helps everybody adjust to different circumstances that they're going to run into, different obstacles, different types of work they're going to have to do during the snow season."
During snowstorms, the city operates up to 50 plows during each shift to clear the city's 6,000 lane miles of road, Farkas said.
"With the labor shortage we've had difficulties, just like any other private company out there, bringing people on and retaining good folk because it's a competitive market out there," Farkas said.
But unlike private companies, Farkas is limited by the city's budget.
"We don't have the latitude to be able to offer bonuses," Farkas said. "We've got our base pay we do have a benefits package that the city offers and that's what we have."
With 107 drivers on the Public Works Operations and Maintenance Division roster, Farkas said scheduling can be tight for 24-hour shifts tackling winter's worst.
"You get a couple people on vacation or sick ... you know, that kind of thing ... and if they can't make it in, it makes it difficult to fulfill all of those routes."
As Colorado Springs grows in size with land annexations and a booming population the city's need for snow plows and driver increases, Farkas said.
"Next year, come April, we will be coming to the budget committee with justification on what our needs are and hopefully as they get down and make those decisions for what needs to be funded ... we will hopefully see a few more bodies," Farkas said. "We are at some point going to need that expansion."