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The Catalyst

Unsung heroes get the job done during ice storm

By Mikie Hayes
Public Relations

The MUSC campus braced for a late January 2014 winter storm that brough ice, freezing rain and snow to parts of the Lowcountry. photo provided

As word of Charleston’s mild winters and no measureable snowfall for years at a time made its way north and west, the city became the “worst kept secret.” Then winter 2014 decided to stir things up.

Even during challenging events like an ice storm, it goes without saying that uninterrupted patient care is critically important. For an institution to operate efficiently, it takes preparation, procedures and personnel. 

When things run smoothly, people rarely think about it. It’s often not until access, convenience or safety become an issue that they realize just how much they take these things for granted.

When people are able to safely get from point A to point B, stay warm when it’s 19 degrees outside or ride an elevator because the power is running – they probably have the Department of Engineering and Facilities to thank.

MUSC is an enormous health care complex that comprises 82 acres and 95 buildings. When an impending event threatens Charleston, MUSC Engineering and Facilities personnel go into high gear to ensure hatches are battened down and conditions inside and out are monitored on a minute–by–minute basis.

MUSC Grounds shop’s Kyle Lewis takes a break after completing 27 hours of work.

During the 48–hour ice storm that some refer to as “Icepocalypse 2104,” many MUSC employees stayed on campus, often putting their own personal needs on hold to make sure the needs of the patients and staff were met and operations were able to run as necessary.

Freezing rain quickly turned to ice, making travel and getting around campus treacherous. While area bridges closed due to ice, the MUSC Grounds shop removed inches of ice from the helicopter pad by hand and kept it cleared for the duration of the storm, allowing emergency flights to land and take off without incident.

“Making sure patients can get safely on and off campus is the most important aspect of the grounds shop during an ice storm like this.  Making sure the helicopter pad is clear of ice is difficult, but very rewarding. When we saw the helicopter land, we knew our work was helping others. That is what we like about working on the grounds the most,” said Robin Smith, grounds supervisor.

Smith and four of her crew spent one or both nights on campus and worked shifts up to 27 hours at a time.

They were out in the elements nearly the entire time and responsible for spreading the 3,400 pounds of de–icing salt mixture — 68 huge containers. They cleared roads like Ashley Avenue, making them passable, as the city was busy with other priorities. “Somebody had to stay and clear the roads and chisel out the helipad,” she said.

Buckets of salt de–icing mixture were spread around campus.

In addition to the Grounds shop, the Engineering and Facilities Department had numerous crews running around the clock. The Boiler, Electric, and HVAC shops, Unit Maintenance, Zone Maintenance techs and the Service Call center all worked 24/7, according to Mark Brown, director of Facility Operations. Thanks to their dedication, MUSC patients, visitors and staff were safe, comfortable and in good hands.

“I am proud of our team. We had a rather unique even, and we were able to address it with few problems. Our staff is the first responder for these events and they rose to the occasion,” said Greg Weigle, chief facilities officer.

February 13, 2014

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