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Temperatures are cooling down

JBLM’s snow removal team heats up

Photo credit: Senior Airman Leah Young, 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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(Photo: Since the 62nd Airlift Wing and 446th Airlift Wing have a 24-hour, no-fail worldwide operational mission, nearly half of the snow removal team from the Directorate of Public Works at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is dedicated to the McChord Field runway when the snow hits.)

When the calendar turns to October, most people look forward to and make plans for Halloween. For a team of about 30 people in the Directorate of Public Works (DPW) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), October kicks off the snow removal season on base.

Although the DPW team is responsible for clearing runways and primary roads, almost everyone working and living on JBLM needs to take action when the snow hits.

"Our primary focus is keeping the McChord Field runway open, along with the primary roads across the installation," said Air Force Maj. Matthew Smith, DPW's Operations and Maintenance Division deputy chief. "When the snow hits, our team works two, 12-hour shifts for snow removal."

Smith said when team members spring into action, they first spray a deicing agent on the pavement to pretreat the roads to help prevent ice buildup. When the snow arrives and the plowing begins, they'll also use sand and salt on Lewis Main and Lewis North. On McChord Field, they'll plow and use sand only.

"We don't use salt on McChord Field, simply to avoid spillage of salt from the roads to the flightline," Smith said. "The concern there is salt creating corrosion on the aircraft."

When taking care of the McChord Field flightline, a shift of eight workers are in constant motion operating the seven pieces of snow removal equipment dedicated for the Air Force -- deicers, snow blowers and snow plows -- to clear the runway and taxiways.

Nearly half of DPW's snow removal team is dedicated to the McChord Field airfield because the 62nd Airlift Wing and 446th Airlift Wing have a 24-hour, no-fail worldwide operational mission.

"It's a very orchestrated effort on the flightline," said Air Force Master Sgt. Rick Wolfe, DPW's Operations and Maintenance Division Roads and Grounds section chief. "It's also very complicated, with all of the security areas and procedures there."

It also makes for a long 12-hour shift.

"Our guys only get about five- to 10-minute breaks throughout their shifts, and that usually only comes when they bring in a vehicle for quick maintenance -- fuel or blade changes," said Air Force Staff Sgt. James Oldenhoff, DPW's Operations and Maintenance Division Roads noncommissioned officer in charge. "And then we go back out and keep the runway clear until the next shift comes in."

The rest of the DPW snow removal team clears the primary roads on JBLM -- Pendleton Ave., Liggett Ave., Barnes Blvd. and Col. Joe Jackson Blvd., to name just a few. When the primary roads are clear and the snow fall is manageable, the DPW team sends its plows to major parking lots and secondary roads leading to base housing areas. Gray Army Airfield is cleared on an as-needed basis, according to Smith.

Unit commanders and building facility managers have the responsibility to plan and arrange for clearing off sidewalks, stairs and entryways of their immediate outside areas. Acquisition of snow shovels and other snow-removal equipment is at the unit's discretion and cost. Deicer agents and snowmelt products are available at the Base Supply Centers on JBLM.


When snow hits around the base housing areas on JBLM, Lewis-McChord Communities (LMC) responds with a phased plan addressing current road conditions focused on the most critical areas first -- hills and major intersections, according to John Scheerer, LMC facility manager.

"So that our focus remains on the most critical areas, LMC will not be plowing or sanding side streets, rather focusing on major connecting roads, hills and intersections in and out of our communities," Scheerer said. "(Although) it is the base housing residents' responsibility to perform snow or ice removal at their individual homes and sidewalks in front of the homes, we will do our best to provide for the safe passage of our residents in and out of the JBLM neighborhoods and respond to resident concerns, as resources allow.

"Please keep in mind, LMC does not have staff on-site, 24 hours a day to assess road conditions; so when conditions change overnight, we will respond as quickly as possible in cooperation with the Directorates of Emergency Services and Public Works on JBLM."


  • To report problem areas around base housing areas, call 253.912.3500.
  • To report other areas around the base, call DPW's customer service number at 253.967.3131, option 2.

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