Bradley’s maintenance crews have a lot of ground to cover

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BDL-MaintenanceCrew_002By Robin Lee Michel, For The Airport News

During winters past, intense storms have essentially closed parts of New England, including Connecticut and Massachusetts. However, maintenance department employees at Bradley International Airport didn’t always know that. It didn’t matter — at the airport, it’s business as usual regardless of conditions beyond its boundaries.
When storms hit, generators powered up and snow removal teams tackled the runways and roads. “Airlines might stop but it’s very unusual if the airport closes,” said Trent Wright, manager of maintenance.
“People are in the buildings 365/24/7. You still have to take care of operations,” said Gregory Jefferson, transportation general supervisor in the maintenance department.
There are 43 full-time employees in the department, 23 on the grounds and 20 on buildings, all members of the Connecticut State Employees Association/SEIU Local 2001. More than half have worked at the airport for more than 20 years, including Wright, who has logged 27 years, having started in the electrical shop. Secretary Kathy Calsetta helps keep the department running smoothly.
“We maintain all systems at the airport,” Wright said. These include buildings, grounds and airfield maintenance, plumbing, electricity, painting and carpentry, indoors and out, wherever needed. The department also oversees 15 to 20 miles of security fences and 30 miles of roads. “Anything you could ever think of, we take care of,” Wright said.
With about 2,400 acres, Bradley has a lot of ground — figuratively and literally — for the department to cover. Its $18 million annual budget covers operating costs, personnel, utilities, contract services and commodities, Wright said.
The department operates in three shifts except during winter storms, and then the men do whatever it takes. Snow removal vehicles make up the majority of the 180 pieces of equipment in the fleet. These include snowplows with blades up to 36 feet wide, loaders, snowblowers, snow brooms, snow pushers and 4,000-gallon de-icer trucks.
Before a storm arrives, all equipment is checked and readied to roll out. “Everything has to be ready at any time,” Jefferson said.
When the snow begins falling, staffers are called out to keep all surfaces clear. “Winter operations are a big component. It takes everybody we have to keep the taxiways and runways clean,” Wright said. “Snow removal here is 24 hours.” Because of the scope of the snow operations, contractors keep the terminal gates open.
However, ice and sleet can sometimes be even more challenging if the surface temperature drops below zero. Sections of the runways will be temporarily closed while being cleared but usually reopened within half an hour. “The object is to keep the airport open,” Wright said.
Maintenance crews are responsible for de-icing the aircrafts, and collecting and processing the used glycol, in compliance with state laws. Sand is spread, and it’s not just any sand; it must meet Federal Aviation Administration specifications.
Safety is always the top priority, regardless of the season, and the coordination of the teams is essential. So is “situational awareness,” which means employees outside must know their exact location at any time. “These are active runways,” Wright said.
Communication is ongoing with several radios to keep in contact with the tower, operations, maintenance headquarters and one another. Colored lights and signs that are coded with colors and letters keep the drivers (and pilots) on the right track even when the visibility is minimal.
“We have to be sure where all the equipment is all the time. It requires intricate operations,” Wright said. Some new employees must hold a commercial driver’s license and undergo six months of training to ensure they can safely navigate the airfield, understand the coded signs and lights, and master radio communications. Being unaware could result in disaster.
“It’s like a chess match,” said John Wallace, CAA manager of communications. “It’s an amazing operation.”
Runway maintenance is ongoing, weather permitting. There are always markings to be painted and minor paving jobs. “From spring to early November, we are out painting every day,” Wright said.
The annual paint budget alone is $114,500 for 3,800 gallons of paint and 12 tons of glass beads, which are added as the paint is applied. The glass beads not only enhance the reflectivity of the markings but add traction to the surface. White is the most widely used color, followed by yellow on the taxiways and black for borders. All must be FAA standard paint colors. Each year, a contractor scrapes off the tire rubber that accumulates on the runways, including runway 6/24, the longest at 9,600 feet and 200 feet wide.
In addition to painting, “lighting is the other critical element,” according to Wright. There are hundreds of miles of underground electrical cables and 1,650 runway lights to maintain, which can prove to be a challenge to repair when they malfunction. The five-man electrical crew takes care of every light bulb, not only on the field but within the buildings, as well as all other electrical systems.
There are also plumbing/heating, carpentry/painting, vehicle repair, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning divisions of the Maintenance Department. There are hundreds of acres of grass to be regularly mowed. “There are a lot of aspects to maintenance. A lot goes on behind closed doors that people never see,” Wright said.
“There’s constant activity and everything has to be maintained,” Jefferson said.
The operations hub is the 27,000-square-foot maintenance facility and the similarly sized, adjoining cold storage equipment building, which houses most of the vehicles. Designated as Building 85-168, it was built about eight years ago on Light Lane. There are separate smaller shops for the adjunct divisions. Depending on the season, equipment can be stored indoors or out.
Milo Mazurick, the transportation garage supervisor and employee of more than 25 years, said some of the vehicles date to 1997. However, because they are so carefully maintained, most are still in top condition, he said. Mazurick is looking forward to receiving new equipment during the next few years, a result of CAA’s large investment in the department.
Working at Bradley or any airport is unlike working a similar job —for the Department of Transportation or town highway department, for instance. “It’s completely different working on ‘the inside’ rather than ‘the outside,’ ” Wright said. “We use specialized equipment in a specialized environment.”
Most of the employees are experienced in certain trades, for example in mechanics or electrical, yet learn primarily on the job once they are hired at Bradley. “This is an airport environment and it’s very unique,” Wright said.
Because of the necessity of working closely together in ever-changing situations, camaraderie is essential. “This is your life here,” Jefferson said. “It is a city in itself.”
“This is a great place to work. It’s like a family,” Mazurick said. “It’s a different world.”

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