As sleet, snow and freezing rain fell on Oklahoma City roadways Thursday evening, Larry Fleming took on what might have been the most unappreciated job in town.
Fleming, a 52-year-old Oklahoma City native, punched the clock long before ice and snow started to fall. As his 12-hour shift started, he changed into his fluorescent yellow coat, knit hat and insulated jeans before getting in his tandem-axel diesel dump truck. As the public was being warned to stay off city streets if possible, Fleming did the opposite.
Fleming operates heavy machinery for Oklahoma City.
In short, he's a snowflake first-responder — the man behind the wheel of a plow truck that removes snow and ice while spreading chemical salt blends that keep city streets drivable when a wintry storm hits.
“This is basically just being on-call,” Fleming said. “This is our job, to take care of the city whenever we're having a disaster.”
Fleming is one of about 150 workers who drive 33 trucks in two shifts. The trucks carry up to nine tons of salt blend in one load. The fleet was out in full force Thursday as the National Weather Service estimated the metro area could receive up to six inches of snow and sleet.
“This isn't bad,” said Fleming at 4 p.m. Thursday. “Even if we had two or three inches out there, we can open these major routes pretty easy.”
Fleming has been operating heavy equipment since he was 15 and has worked for the city for the past three years. He qualified for his position by passing a series of tests on a backhoe, front-end loader and grater.
Oklahoma City tests Fleming and other members of the road crew annually with classes on how to operate equipment and specific teamwork strategies to better remove snow. Fleming said the perception of his position as a kick-back job is laughable.