BETHEL — In the aftermath of Thursday’s winter storm Fortis, which dumped well over a foot of snow in most parts of the state, Maine Department of Transportation workers are continuing to clean up the roads, and most are doing it on little to no sleep.

“I’ve gotten about two hours of sleep in the last 24 hours,” Bethel MDOT crew member Bob Chase said.

He plows Route 5 toward Waterford and occasionally Route 26 toward Grafton Notch.

The Maine MDOT has roughly 400 trucks in its fleet, and is responsible for plowing about 8,400 miles of state roads. The state plow truck drivers, referred to as “snow fighters” on the Maine MDOT Web page, begin their battle with Old Man Winter before a storm even begins, and don’t stop until hours after the last flake has fallen.

Dale Doughty, director of maintenance and operations for the MDOT, said plow drivers often work shifts of over 12 hours, and the shortage of snow fighters makes it hard to keep everyone well-rested.

“It’s an intense job in the middle of a storm,” he said. “There’s wind blowing, snow coming down, other drivers on the road, and they do all this with little rest. The men and women (who) work this job are very dedicated.”


Zach Meisner of the MDOT Bethel crew, who is in charge of plowing Route 26 toward Norway, was called in to plow at midnight Thursday and worked until 3:30 p.m. Friday.

Dan Bradbury, supervisor of the Bethel crew, said one of his employees worked a 19½-hour shift.

Along with concentrating on the multiple hazards of the road in the midst of a storm, Doughty said the drivers and their supervisors have to focus on the science of keeping a road clear and safe.

“Drivers are trying to apply salt at just the right time, at the right temperature in order to keep the snow from bonding to the road. This job is not just sitting behind a plow and going around,” Doughty said.

That’s why it’s so important to stay home during a storm, if possible, he said, because the more access plow drivers have to the entire road from white line to yellow line, the more effective they are at eliminating snow and ice patches.

“Prudent speed and prudent space,” Doughty said. “Know that the trucks are very wide, so don’t pass when it’s unsafe. (The plows) are going to try to avoid you, too, and it takes away focus from the road. It’s nice when businesses delay and school is out, because then plow drivers have more road to focus on.”


Jeff Gallant of the Bethel crew, who plows Route 26 toward Grafton Notch, also advised drivers to keep their distance from the plow trucks when following them.

“If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you,” Gallant said.

Doughty said there are multiple ways drivers can assist plow drivers in making the roads as safe as possible. In addition to staying off the roads during a storm and making sure mailboxes are installed according to the United States Postal Service’s standards can make a huge difference for snow fighters.

According to the USPS website, mailboxes should be positioned 41 to 45 inches away from the road’s surface, and 6 to 8 inches back from the curb. Any mailbox supports should be stable but able to bend or fall away if hit, so a 4- by 4-inch wooden post or a steel or aluminum pipe no more than 2 inches in diameter is ideal. Heavy metal posts and concrete pipes can be dangerous for both plows and passenger cars.

“(Plow drivers) do their very best to miss (mailboxes), but we do occasionally hit one,” Doughty said. “Then people try to put them in so they’re (more) resilient. That causes danger, if a mailbox (or support) is built out of material that won’t give, that’s a risk to plow truck drivers and other drivers because the wing might hit it.”

It’s a nasty thing called “wing slap,” which happens when the front of the wing catches on or hits something, and swings the back part up. Wing slaps can result in damage to the plow truck and even injury to the driver.

How residents clear the end of their driveway can also impact a plow driver. Doughty asked that when people clear driveways they don’t blow or plow the snow out into the road.

“When someone plows soft snow out into the road and then it gets cold, that snow can harden into a big, solid chunk. If that block isn’t out of the road and a driver comes along and hits it with their wing, that may (cause damage) or even spin the truck around,” Doughty said.

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