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First snowfall of the year means long shifts for Billings snowplow drivers

Posted at 5:34 PM, Nov 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-10 19:34:20-05

The first snowfall of the year hit Billings Monday evening, and with snow falling nonstop ever since, snowplow drivers have been busy around the clock trying to clear thee new snow.

Most people begin their day when the sun comes up, but that isn't the case for snowplow drivers like Brad Phares. This time of the year, he and his family have to make the adjustment to a 12-hour shift that many times has him working through the night.

“My husband worked eight to eight," said Ashlie Phares, Brad's wife. "Left our house at 8 o'clock at night, scarfed down some dinner, drank some coffee and he’s on the road all night long. Year after year, it’s just exhausting, because you see not just my family. There are other coworkers that have three, four or five kids. I don’t think people realize the things they give up."

Long shifts are just one of the reasons that Montana and other states have encountered a plow driver shortage. Last year, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT) was down about 60 drivers. Equipment Bureau Chief at MDOT Walt Kerttula said this year has been a little bit better.

“As far as crews, a few areas are having some struggles getting workers," Kerttula said. "Most notably Bozeman area, but as of right now most of them are doing pretty good."

In Billings, the city says there isn't a struggle to find plow drivers. Donald Sweatt is the supervisor for street and traffic in town, and he said that every winter they manage to find many motivated, capable drivers.

"When it’s this time of the year and this type of situation happens, everybody gets on board,” Sweatt said.

Sweatt has worked in the streets department for 25 years. He said he knows firsthand the sacrifices that both drivers and their families make each year.

“Mother Nature plays a big part in how long this lasts,” Sweatt said. “The joke at my house is that my wife is a winter widow, and that’s been a joke for over 20 years."

The manpower is there, but the snow season in Montana is a long one, which is why both Sweatt and Phares have a big ask for Billings drivers.

“Give the guys room to work," Sweatt said. "If you’re patient, when they’re done with that section of road you’re driving on a clear road.”

“Be kind, be patient, because they’re doing the best that they can,” Phares said.