(HELENA) Matt Komac has been driving snowplows for the Montana Department of Transportation for 18 years. He came to the agency after working as a respiratory therapist.
“I just got kind of burned out on health care, and there was something that sounded kind of interesting, so I thought I’d give it a shot,” he said.
Komac, an MDT crew leader, said it’s a job that requires a lot of flexibility.
“We’re kind of on a standby-type situation,” he said. “When it gets nasty out and we need to get out there, we come out.”
With snow expected into the holiday weekend, MDT is hard at work to make sure the roads stay clear. The department’s Helena section, had about nine plows on the road throughout the day Friday. Operators worked 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, plowing highways from Sieben Flats in the north to Clancy in the south, and from the west edge of Helena to Spokane Creek Road in the east.
Komac said, in some cases, snowplows aren’t even turned off after one operator finishes a shift.
“It’ll be sitting in the parking lot running, and the next guy gets in,” he said. “Then he’ll run it for 12 hours, and then the next guy gets back in. There’s times these trucks don’t get shut down for two or three days.”
MDT leaders say they don’t have a set schedule for how often plows should cover a given stretch of road. Instead, they are constantly updating their routes to account for changing road conditions.
Komac said one of the biggest challenges for plow operators can be the conditions themselves.
“A lot of people think that we have better visibility than them – not so much,” he said. “We get the snow coming over the top of the plow, and so our visibility can be a lot worse than what the normal driving public is.”
On Friday, plow drivers had to deal with fairly constant snowfall and heavy winds in some areas, but Komac said there were positive signs as well.
“It’s something of a nice day,” he said. “It’s actually snow, it doesn’t have a lot of moisture in it, so we’re not dealing with the ice that we have in the last few storms.”
Komac warned drivers to be especially careful not to follow plows too closely. MDT plows are supposed to drive a maximum of 45 mph when they have their blade up, and 35 mph when they are actively plowing.
“People on the interstate are doing 80 miles an hour, they don’t realize we’re going as slow as we are, and, boom, they run into the back of us,” said Komac.