Cold-weather workers: Hydrate and wear layers


Wendy Cavers of Lewiston waved the next line of skiers toward the  chairlift. A little boy shouted, “Hi, Wendy,” as he waddled past, and wished her a happy new year.

She’d been outside operating the lift for about an hour, and her work partner was coming to relieve her soon.

Because of the week’s extreme cold, Sunday River ski resort in Newry employees rotated to go inside and warm up every 30 to 60 minutes. But to them, the cold is just part of the job.

“We’re passionate about skiing; that’s why we’re all here,” Cavers said.

In fact, for some employees, Saturday’s single-digit temperatures were a welcome warm-up compared to the negative temperatures earlier in the week.

“It’s actually pretty pleasant without the wind,” said ski instructor Tom Happel of Easton, Pa. “I always say there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

Ski instructor Gail Preble of Kennebunkport certainly knew what appropriate clothing was. She was wearing four jackets, three layers under her snow pants, liners and heat packs in her down mittens, heated boots with boot covers, a balaclava, neck warmer and hat.

“Just dress in layers,” said state employee Jeff Gallant of Rumford. When they’re not plowing, Gallant and the other workers of the Bethel Department of Transportation garage cut brush and flag outside.

Gallant said he buys military surplus mittens and almost everyone he works with wears long underwear.

“I figure if it’s good enough for the Army, it’s good enough for me,” Gallant said.

In addition to appropriate clothing, Gallant said, it’s just as important to drink lots of water when working outside.

“You’ll get dehydrated real quickly,” he said. “When you’re outside in the summer, you know you’re sweating and you feel thirsty. In the winter when the wind is blowing on your face, it’s hard to know.”

While water is incredibly important, for Peru fire chief Bill Hussey and his fellow firefighters, it can also add to the danger of a fire in the cold.

“The worst part about fires in the winter is when the water freezes,” Hussey said. “Wherever you have a hose, there’s water everywhere, and it freezes on the road and makes things very slippery.”

Besides the slippery road, firefighters also have to take care to avoid becoming “encased” in ice. If they get sprayed with water, their gear will freeze, including the straps of their breathing apparatuses.

Another hazard firefighters have to deal with in the winter is going from one extreme to another, from inside the blazing inferno of a building to the biting wind of the great outdoors.

“Med-Care always comes to our calls and sets up a rehabilitation station where we can hydrate, get warm and get our vitals checked,” Hussey said.

As challenging as it is to be in a profession that requires braving extreme temperatures and situations, Hussey said it’s just another part of the invaluable job he and his crew do.

“It’s quite an experience,” he said.

[email protected]

Sunday River ski instructors Gail Preble of Kennebunkport, left, and Tom Happel of Easton, Pa., work out in the cold Saturday at Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry. (Liz Marquis/Sun Journal)