Published January 27, 2015 by the Asbury Park Press
NEPTUNE – It was a state of emergency, and Kevin Devlin was not without his trusty 2003 Chevy Suburban Monday night.
It’s a full-size SUV he insists on. Though it’s among the older vehicles available to the township’s Office of Emergency Management, he knows its limitations and its ability to power through a snowstorm. Lose a little traction, flip on four-wheel drive, no problems.
Devlin’s truck has handled much worse in his role as deputy coordinator of the office of emergency management. Like superstorm Sandy, a disaster still very much in the memory of the people responsible for handling disasters in Neptune.
Some of those people were at the emergency operation center, a wing of Midtown Community Elementary School. There was a room with a long wood table where authorities gathered to manage response, there was an area for dispatchers, there was a map projected on a screen that showed updates on which roads had been plowed. Those working could take naps on the exam tables in a nearby school nurse’s office. They were there for a week during Sandy.
Keeping roads open for emergencies is a top priority in a snowstorm. Even after the flakes stop falling, it takes at least 24 hours to clear every avenue, according to Emergency Management Coordinator Michael Bascom. There are about 400 miles of roadway in the township, Bascom said, 800 figuring they have to plow both sides of the street.
Road department staff were waiting to do just that over at the public works building. Wind whipped snow through the parking lot and the garage smelled sweet like brown sugar — crews loaded trucks with a mixture of road salt, liquid magnesium to lower the freezing point and molasses to help the grit stick to the ground.
He was born and raised in Hazlet, graduating from Raritan High School in 1979.
He did four years in the Air Force, working as a boiler fireman in Colorado. He’s been with the township for 16 years. He did maintenance in the municipal building, then the township senior center. Then three years riding the back of a garbage truck, lifting cans by hand, before it was automated. Then he went into the roads department. In time, he learned to make street signs.
His father, his grandfather, his brothers are all building painters. DeRosa paints from time to time, but he wanted something with more stability. He’s got a check coming when he retires. His father is still climbing ladders.
“53 years old and your bones start aching with the raw cold like that.”When DeRosa retires, he’d like to get back to Colorado, near the foothills of mountains. It’s cold, but drier than New Jersey.
Finally, at about 1:15 a.m. there was enough powder on the ground to get started. Albert “Albie” Fritz lead the charge in an elephant of a truck — a Ford F-750 XL Super Duty with an 11.5-foot wide plow.
It was Fritz’s favorite kind of snow. It was light and dry, easy to push, though prone to drifting. Fritz first plowed a line down the middle of larger roads, rumbling along at about 10 m.p.h., plow blade clattering on the asphalt.
His plow hit a manhole cover hidden under snow like a mine. It felt like a moderate car crash, but it’s actually fairly routine.
Fritz is 24, he’s worked with the township for about four years. He was also once a garbageman, and Monday night he and DeRosa worked as a team to clear the “college streets,” an area of roads named after institutions of higher learning.
DeRosa was in a smaller truck, good for maneuvering in tight spaces, while Fritz’s beast truck was good for long stretches.
Though Fritz was driving slowly, the impact with the manhole cover rattled the cab of the truck. Fritz had to go slowly because he wasn’t intimately familiar with where each pitfall was. Hitting one at a higher speed could seriously damage the plow. More experienced drivers know the land so well they can dodge the obstacles and cruise up to 30 m.p.h.
If not for the roar of the truck, the scene was peaceful. Homes nestled in soft white drifts. Nobody around. It looked like poetry— the steady falling of snow, the bare branches of trees, dark against the gray sky.
Another manhole cover.