Confessions of a Snow Addict

Brian R. Usher
Director of Public Works and Engineering
City of Zion, Illinois
Chair, APWA Emergency Management Committee

I am a Public Works Geek! They say that acceptance is the first step toward healing, so I am trying to do that. Why do I say this, you ask? Let me tell you.

Each year as the days lengthen, the temperatures start to warm, and nature begins to awaken from the winter slumber, my thoughts turn to the North American Snow Conference! Yes, I fondly remember informative seminars on chemical de-icing, mandatory work hours, environmental impacts, and emerging equipment forums. I long for long hours of discussion with vendors on the product showcase floor and the aching, sore feet that night.

In over 28 years in the public works profession and over 20 years with APWA, the information I have accumulated at the Snow Conference has been among the most valuable of my career. While we look around us at our technologically-altered life styles, snow removal is probably one of the few areas in our lives that is relatively unchanged in over 100 years. Yes, there are electronic controls for our dispensing equipment instead of manual (or the even older "Armstrong" method), and trucks are bigger and heavier, but the basic process has not changed. What has changed is our efficiency and our level of service. When I started in the business we only salted hills and stop signs. Now, bare pavement is the expected result of our efforts. Along the way we became aware of the environmental issues and Sensible Salting became the watchword we follow. We learned at the Snow Conference that more is not always better! Then we just had to convince our coworkers and employees.

The friendships I have made at this program endure to this day. I always look forward to meeting these friends who I only get to see once a year, but often correspond with via e-mail and phone. I remember fondly social activities in St. Paul, Salt Lake City, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Montreal. I remember having a snowball fight in downtown Buffalo, in the middle of the main street on a Sunday afternoon! It snowed at the Snow Conference and all of us took advantage of the opportunity to watch and have fun rather than work!

For the past 12 years I have sent at least one of my supervisors, and usually two, to attend the North American Snow Conference. I cannot recommend strongly enough that if you live in the Snow Belt, you are seriously handicapping your communities' snow fighting ability by not attending. Attend, share and participate. Applying those three words will ensure that you, too, can say without question that the Snow Conference is the best that there is.

Brian R. Usher can be reached at (847) 746-4064 or at