Unsung heroes: Infrastructure crew provides vital, if unseen, service to colleagues
Pantexans arrive on-site to safe streets and sidewalks, even amid harsh Panhandle weather. Few stop to think about the men and women who report hours before them—and often stay many hours after they leave—to keep their work environment safe and well maintained.
Extreme weather is a familiar occurrence in the Texas Panhandle. Longtime Pantexan Harvey Bellamy has seen his fair share of storms and their aftermath, including National Guard snow rescues and severe windstorms that toppled buildings.
“Before our present hardened guard stations were built, we had temporary stations, basically portable buildings at the east and west gates,” he recalled. “During one severe-wind event, the west station was blown over–with a guard in it!”
These days, Pantexans arrive on-site to safe streets and sidewalks, even amid harsh Panhandle weather. Few stop to think about the men and women who report hours before them—and often stay many hours after they leave—to keep their work environment safe and well maintained. For the staff of Infrastructure’s Site Services team, going unnoticed is almost a badge of honor—a signal their job is correct and complete.
“We watch the weather every day,” said Quinton McNabb. “As things progress and it looks like it’s going to be a significant weather event, we make sure we have everything we need. Then, as it gets closer, we look at how many personnel we’re going to need.”
Much like their relative anonymity, advanced planning comes with the territory. Occasionally, however, the team has to adapt to evolving situations more quickly.
“Sometimes, you just have to jump on it because weather moves in so fast out here,” explained Irene Lewis, yard crew manager and one of about a dozen or so employees—about half the full team—gathered in an upstairs breakroom. “We had one storm when we used up our entire year’s worth of [ice-melt] product in one week! We got the plant ready at 1, 1:30 in the morning, and it just got covered in ice all over again.”
Lewis’ memory of that storm a few years ago perfectly highlights Site Services’ dedication to their colleagues and the Pantex mission.
“We came out Sunday morning to get ready and didn’t get to leave until Thursday,” she said.
Her colleague Kurt Cockrell nodded.
“People don’t know that we’re out here as long as we are, especially during the winter,” he said.
Voicing his agreement, Brad Johnson ticked off a list of items that must be attended to before shifts change during winter-weather events.
“We get our equipment ready and go prep the [plant] roads,” he said.
Paying special attention to intersections, turns, and sloping roads, Johnson said the team then turns to sidewalks, applying a sufficient covering of granular ice-melt.
As days lengthen and temperatures rise with spring’s approach, severe-storm season will soon follow. With those storms will come new challenges for these men and women, many of whom will maintain the condition of grassy areas and ditches, as well as address leaky roofs caused by the inevitable Texas-sized hail.
“Last summer, we all stood out here and watched our cars get completely pulverized,” recalled Lewis with a mix of both humor and lament.
It’s an event which draws wry chuckles now, but each staffer knows severe weather on the High Plains is no joking matter. On Labor Day weekend of 1967, a series of five tornadoes struck Pantex, destroying some 50 power poles, numerous ramps and roofs, and shattering an incredible number of vehicle and building windows. Strong wind storms again left devastating impacts on the site in 1969 and the 1983 event Bellamy remembered. Each incident left this group’s predecessors grateful for their safety but with huge messes to clean up.
Yet, for all their hard work, this is not a team that asks for attention or accolades. The pride of a job well done is thanks enough. They work hard in the day-to-day providing safe roads, digging trenches, and filling sand bags. When situations really escalate, they rise to the occasion. During wildfire season, the crew can be found cutting fire breaks, refilling the fire department’s grass rigs, or refueling fire trucks on the go.
Of course, there’s one thing this crew does wish employees would take to heart.
“Give us room to do our job, either walking or driving,” Cockrell said.
Lewis explained employees will, at times, crowd their heavy equipment, creating a potential hazard if the machine’s operator should need to back up.
“People on tractors have a problem with employees walking behind the equipment,” she said.
Drawing echoes from his peers, Travis Reed said it’s hard to watch other employees make careless decisions that frustrate hours of hard work.
“We spend hours and hours putting down ice melt, to watch people walk [in an untreated area], creating a hazard,” he said.
Much like the old postal creed involving snow, rain, and gloom of night, the men and women of Pantex Infrastructure stand ready both day and night to ensure their peers accomplish the mission, safely.
Infrastructure’s Site Services team provides safe roads, digs trenches, fills sand bags, and much more.