Phil Brienza Jr., the fleet operations superintendent for Lewiston Public Works, stands Saturday in the garage in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — He is a mechanic by trade who now oversees a multimillion-dollar collection of backhoes, trucks, snowplows, police and fire vehicles, buses, vans and miscellaneous equipment.

For Phil Brienza Jr., that also means he runs the municipal garage at 103 Adams Ave., trains employees with specialty equipment like cranes, oversees a staff of mechanics, reviews the specifications and purchasing for vehicles and equipment and acts as the city’s backup safety officer, among other roles like helping his mechanics troubleshoot problems and find a resolution.

But as the first snow flies, Brienza’s focus is on the snowplows and teams that keep the roads cleared and navigable. “We’re busy year-round, but this is probably the worst,” he said.

The trucks take a beating.

“In the wintertime, they could run 15, 20, 30 hours (at a time) because they’re the plows,” he explained.

Attach a 22-foot plow and a load of sand and salt, Brienza says, and it takes a lot of effort to push the rig down the road. And then there’s the very corrosive material they use to melt snow and ice from the roads.


“We have to replace the bolts in the transmission,” he said, referring to the city trucks that double as snowplows “How often do you replace the bolts in your transmission? Never.”

If it’s so corrosive, why use it, you might ask? “It might be corrosive, but everybody wants black streets,” he quickly answers. “They don’t want ice.”

It creates big problems for the Public Works Department too. The trucks must constantly be washed, a process that takes several hours per vehicle, which means taking it offline. Then it snows again, and the process starts all over.

What the public doesn’t realize, Brienza says, is the salt and de-icing liquid is why they buy trucks with stainless-steel mirrors and steps. Yes, they cost more up front, but stainless steel resists corrosion far better than regular steel, and saves money in replacement costs. These are the type of issues Brienza has to make decisions on every day.

As a supervisor, Brienza faces the same issues most businesses do these days, finding enough qualified people to fill open positions. “The people that apply aren’t really qualified,” he said.

“A lot of people we’re hiring don’t have a commercial driver’s license, but we have to train them and get them licensed,” Brienza explained. “And then we have to train them how to drive a big truck. If you’ve never driven anything but a Honda, that’s a big change.”


Brienza says the technology that’s supposed to make everything easier to maintain and run more efficiently can actually cause problems. “It’s a triage right now,” he said, referring to keeping up with technology and the myriad of work.

Phil Brienza, fleet operations superintendent for Lewiston Public Works, works on a truck Saturday at the shop on Adams Avenue. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“The biggest problem with the new technology is emissions,” Brienza explained. “If you took the all the electronics off, and you could run that way, it’d be a lot easier.”

Some of the trucks have multiple computers on board, adding to the complexity of finding problems and fixing them. “It’s like detective work,” Brienza said. “The outside world is charging two to three times more an hour than what it costs us to do with the vehicle.”

Brienza is a hands-on person and has the respect of his staff. “He is a really knowledgeable guy, when it comes to trucks and equipment,” Cody Pleau, a mechanic supervisor, said when asked about his boss. “He always comes into work with a good attitude.”

“Phil is a very patient and understanding guy, even when it comes to people learning new things,” Pleau added. “He is willing to adapt to everyone’s needs.”

Brienza came to Lewiston 19 years ago, after working for 21 years at a power company in Massachusetts. He and his wife would travel to Maine to snowmobile in the winter and bought land in Poland near Range Pond. Deregulation of the energy market brought an opportunity to move to Maine and build a house on his land.


“I’ve always had two jobs,” he said. “I’ve been a mechanic all my life. I’ve worked for construction companies; I’ve built gas stations; car washes. I’ve always had two jobs growing up and stuff. You know, here, like I say, I’m the president of the snowmobile club. I’m a high school coach at Poland Regional High School.”

He admits he doesn’t like having nothing to do.

He’s always tinkering, helping out neighbors or friends, or working with teens. “He really enjoys helping the kids on the track team he coaches,” Pleau said. “You can tell he is proud when talking about how good the kids are doing.”

Brienza’s son also is employed at Public Works in the electrical department, so emails sometimes get misdirected. The younger Brienza is called “junior” and not the more formal Phil Brienza III.

“He started when he was in high school cutting grass during the summertime,” the elder Brienza said. His son went to college and studied electrical technology and worked in the water department.

Brienza says he doesn’t really have a “bucket list” of things he wants to do. But it’s very clear he truly enjoys snowmobiling and riding four-wheelers. “I like winding up mountain trails, or whatever, and the beauty you see you from there, and the animals you run into.”


His wife, however, commented one day to him that they never see wildlife on the trails.

“So, I said ‘it takes you so long to get ready in the morning that’s why you don’t see any wildlife.’ So, we go out, coming down this trail — there’s a corner and a railroad track and up a hill. When we come through this cut, and this moose was on the hill, and we spooked it, and we almost rear-ended it,” he recounted.

A group of four-wheelers coming the opposite way scared the moose, which came back toward them. That was followed by some confusion and excitement, until finally the moose gave in and ended the close encounter.

“And we’re, like, in the middle of it all, and finally he goes up the hill in the woods and runs away. I’m, like, ‘have you seen enough wildlife today?'”

Brienza says his wife doesn’t complain about not seeing wildlife anymore.

It’s a distraction he enjoys and allows him to escape the very demanding job of managing the city’s fleet of vehicles and machinery, where there’s constant work, problems to be solved, and phone calls to answer.

“He can be a little forgetful sometimes,” Pleau explains, “like when he forgets his phone at home, which makes it very hard to get ahold of him. Overall, he is a great guy to work for and with.”

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