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Springfield mechanics struggle to keep up with rough weather

City has 550 pieces of equipment to maintain.

It’s one of the coldest, messiest and most grueling jobs this winter: working in the city of Springfield’s service garage as a mechanic. But when it comes to keeping plow trucks and emergency vehicles on the streets, it’s also one of the most important.

“When one truck goes down, that’s just one truck that’s not out there plowing,” said Mike Aston, who’s worked as one of the city’s mechanics for the past nine years. “Everything is stepped up when it gets like this.”

Since January, the city’s six mechanics have not had a break, working 12-hour shifts seven days a week. They are responsible for maintaining 550 pieces of equipment. One of the most important jobs has been repairing the 23 snow plows in the fleet, which are being “pushed to their limits” with the constant barrage of snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures this month, said Chris Moore, city service director.

“They have eight tons of salt dumped on them several times a day, and everything’s rusty,” Moore said. “The guys are crawling under frozen, cold, rusty, dripping trucks to get them back rolling again.”

The garage is no toasty oasis, since the doors are opened constantly to cycle in the vehicles that need everything from a new radiator or transmission to wiper blades. Even when they’re off, mechanics are often called out to the scene when a vehicle breaks down in the snow to make emergency repairs. Aston said they can’t afford to lose one piece of equipment in the height of a storm.

“It’s cold whether you’re inside or outside,” he said.

This winter has been harsher than others, in that there’s been a snow event almost every other day. There’s barely time to make necessary repairs before the plows are needed back on the streets, or a police cruiser or ambulance is called back into service to respond to an emergency. As a result, non-essential equipment, like a city service car, may have to wait at the back of the line for a month, Moore said.

But getting these vehicles safely back into service is a job these mechanics take pride in, even if their work is all behind-the-scenes.

“It’s been unlike any year I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Aston said. “I am proud of these guys, 100 percent.”

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