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Shelby Countians cope with having to battle biting cold

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Some workers struggle to endure freezing temperatures

By Lisa King

With temperatures for two days dipping below the zero mark and sometimes barely climbing above, there were Shelby Countians who couldn’t shun that brutal cold and bask in the warmth indoors.

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Mail carriers are one example. On Monday at the Shelbyville Post Office Monday, employees, wearing several layers of clothing, steam puffing from under scarves wrapped around their faces, worked loading mail into their vehicles.

When one of them dropped a heavy box of mail on his finger and didn’t even make a face, another worker asked, “Didn’t that hurt?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “My finger’s numb.”

Mail carrier Jeff Brumbaugh looked up as he slammed the door of his vehicle.

“I look like a burglar,” he said, blowing steam out of the black ski mask he was wearing.

Corey Hall paused for a moment before climbing into his truck to begin his 73.5-mile route – one of the longest – to talk for a moment about how he was coping with working outside in subzero weather.

“I drink hot coffee, and sometimes when I’m out of the truck, I jump up and down to generate some heat,” he said.

The worst thing for him, he said, is that he can’t just pull up to a roadside mailbox and pull the box door open.

“A lot of them are frozen shut,” he said. “So I have to start tapping with my little rubber mallet.”

Road department crews, who also must endure the elements, also dress in layers and even coveralls, Shelby County Road Supervisor Carl Henry said.

And he noted that employees had to endure a wind-chill that at one point Tuesday night fell to -23.

“It’s not just the temperature; it’s the wind,” Henry said. “That’s a big issue, so we try to rotate our people so they will not be outside as long as they normally would.”

Another measure he takes to cope with frigid weather is to attend to as many indoor activities as possible, Henry said.

“In weather like this, we do a lot a maintenance and things like that,” he said. “And when we do have to be out in the cold, we just make sure we dress as warmly as possible, and we try not to get wet – that’s very important.”

But that’s something that some workers can’t avoid, such as firefighters.

“We don’t last as long in these temperatures as in normal weather, so we have to keep rotating to make sure nobody stays out very long,” said Shelby County Fire Chief Bobby Cowherd.

“What helps is the Red Cross brings us hot coffee, and emergency management, Paul [Whitman, director], brings out a command bus where we can get in out of the weather.”

Cowherd reminisced about one of the worst weather scenarios he had encountered in fighting a major fire.

“The Sixth Street fire [January 1985] was one of the worst as far as dealing with weather,” he said. “We were just talking about that this morning.”

Whitman said that people who have to be outside in such weather should be aware not only of the dangers of freezing temperatures but also of the wind chill.

Whitman passed along a wind chill advisory and warning Monday morning, issued by the National Weather Service, that forecasted a wind chill in the range of between minus 10 and 25 degrees (when the wind chill falls below -24 degrees, it becomes a warning) and wind speeds of 10 miles per hour or more. Those conditions call for appropriate safety measures while working outside, such as wearing layers of clothing, staying dry, wearing head gear, covering the ears and avoiding strenuous activity.

Ray Roberts, a tow truck driver for Hadawreck on Frankfort Road, said he also uses a portable hand warmer of the type that can be carried in a pocket.

“That’s because no matter what kind of gloves you wear, your hands just get really cold,” he said. “It helps. I also wear thermal socks and insulated boots.”

But something he can’t avoid is breathing the frigid air, he said.

“I can deal with the ice and the snow a lot better than I can than it just being this cold,” he said. “The cold is bone chilling, and when you breathe that cold air in, it sorts of shocks you.”

Farmers are also a group that have to brave the weather, and dairy farmer John Kalmey said the difficult thing about farming is that in addition to keeping yourself warm, you also have to take care of the animals.

“You have to make sure they have enough food and water,” he said. “And you have to make sure their [cows’] udders stay dry. That’s very important. You can just wipe them good with a paper towel.”

Kalmey said he remembers a couple of times back in the 1970s and 1980s when the temperature plunged to minus 25 degrees.

“And that wasn’t wind chill, that was the actual temperature,” he said. “But when you’re a farmer – and really, everybody – it’s just something you have to endure.”