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Outdoor workers dress for survival

| Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2003

Francis "Poncho" Vasquez has been a leak detector for nine years. He neither takes his job lightly nor dresses for it in that manner.

The crew from Pennsylvania American Water was out all night Monday to repair leaky and frozen pipes.

"The cold weather is causing all the problems," he said. "When you have people out of water you can't say no."

Because of high winds and subzero temperatures, Vasquez said his crew would be repairing water lines all day in Monongahela.

"We'll see how long we can take it before we have to go home and get some sleep," he said.

The next few days will cause the mercury to plummet, with highs in the upper teens and lows in the single digits.

While a mass of people sit in cubicles in temperature-controlled offices, some professions do not provide that type of comfort. Many vocations are strictly designed for the outdoors.

And for people who work in them, winter is no wonderland.

Rodney Garrett, a cart-pusher at the Rostraver Wal-Mart, said he combats the frigid weather with layers of insulated clothing, a bright orange face mask and foot warmers.

"Your toes are getting nice and warm," he said.

The biggest obstacles he faces are impatient patrons who leave their buggies, willy-nilly, throughout the parking lot - one that, despite the cold, suffers no lack of automobiles.

"People are lazy," he said. "That's the first thing you learn out here."

Josh Yocolano, a clerk at the Amoco full-service station in Monongahela, said pumping gas in the freezing cold is bearable - until it gets busy.

The metal pumps are an icy reminder of the blustery conditions.

"Not even the gloves help too much," he said. "With the wind it's even worse."

A road crew spent time yesterday repairing a telephone pole on Donner Avenue in Monessen that sustained damage when it was hit by lightening more than a year ago.

The five-man crew donned thermal shirts, trousers and multiple layers to protect itself from the elements.

But Rob Waggoner, a lineman from Charleroi, said that despite the padding, the cold still seeps in.

"You get cold. You get out of it for a while and get yourself warmed up again," he said.

Joyce Durinsky, of Monongahela, and her mother, Martha Durinsky, of Carroll Township, said that bitter cold over the weekend made delivering The Valley Independent unbearable.

Their 2 1/2 hour route was made a little better with hand and feet warmers. Designed for hunters, the gadgets were necessary for their warmth.

"It was 7 degrees on Saturday morning," Joyce Durinsky said.

Her mother agreed.

"It was horrible. Your hands are freezing. The other day I felt like my nose was gone," she said.

Campbell's Transportation Traffic Manager Lonnie Todd said bad weather keeps his crews from staying out on barges for long periods.

The Charleroi-based company, which owns and operates tow boats and barges, usually sends crews into the cold for four to six hours at a time.

"They just can't stay out there for as long a period as they usually could," he said. "In the extreme hot or cold they oftentimes can't be out there for more than an hour."

With temperatures dropping far below freezing, health care professionals urge people to exercise caution when braving the cold.

According to Dr. Andrew C. Allison, director of emergency services at Monongahela Valley Hospital, frostbite and hypothermia are the premier health concerns associated with winter weather.

While the elderly and children are most susceptible to those maladies, people who spend extended time outdoors are also candidates for the conditions.

"Wear adequate clothing," Allison said. "Several layers are more effective because of the insulating warm air that is created between each layer."

Allison said the best way to prevent frostbite and hypothermia is to keep warm.

"If you must be outside in the cold, take frequent breaks indoors to rewarm your body," he said.

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