They’re on the road… When everyone’s told to stay off

Clarissa Kell | Daily Press Michigan State Trooper Steve Wallenius drives in Gladstone. He said speed limits are for ideal conditions and people should be driving slower due to snow and ice still on roadways and high snowbanks that limit visibility.

ESCANABA — Storms have been abundant this winter and with it, hazardous road conditions. When extreme road conditions occur the public is advised to stay off the roads. However, law enforcement officers remain on the road to make sure area residents remain safe.

Michigan State Police Sgt. Joe Racicot, of the Gladstone Post, said law enforcement has a requirement to be there for the public to provide public safety and traffic safety.

“Part of that responsibility entails us driving in those very conditions we tell the public not to drive in,” he said.

The Gladstone Post patrols Menominee, Delta and Schoolcraft counties.

Racicot described a typical 10 hour shift. A trooper will drive 150 to 400 miles, depending on where calls are and traffic conditions.

“During extreme, severe weather those miles may go down a little because obviously we are driving slower as well, but it is still a lot of miles and a lot of windshield time for the troopers,” he said. The term “windshield time” means driving time.

Delta County Sheriff Ed Oswald said deputies are on the roads patrolling 24 hours a day — no matter the weather and road conditions.

“We are always out in the bad weather, 24 hours a day. It’s not a job where we can not come into work because the weather is bad. We are actually busier when weather is bad,” he said.

Oswald said Delta County is 1,187 square miles and even if Escanaba’s weather is clear, there could be a snowstorm farther north in the county. He said his department is always prepared for the changing of road conditions.

Driving in hazardous road conditions is part of the job description, so every law enforcement officer is trained on how to drive properly in hazardous road conditions.

Racicot said there is specific training troopers go through to prepare them for driving in road conditions that are deemed hazardous.

At the Michigan State Police recruit school in Lansing, there is a driving requirement that must be met by every recruit before they can become troopers.

“During recruit training and also all through our careers we have the opportunity to do inservice drive training,” he said.

Racicot said part of the drive training is off-road recovery and skid recovery.

“We have a facility set up specifically to simulate perfectly smooth ice conditions and you’re taught how to purposely put the car into a slide and how to take the car out of a slide in order to prevent as many crashes as possible,” said Racicot about the training.

He said the training has proven useful for many of the troopers here this winter with how the road conditions have been.

Oswald said every deputy goes through driving training at the police academy and at the sheriff’s department when they are hired.

Another aspect that helps when driving in extreme winter road conditions is proper maintenance of patrol vehicles.

“We do annual tire testing, and try to put the best tires we can underneath our cars, and have a regular maintenance schedule to make sure those tires are never worn out,” Racicot said.

Oswald said snow tires are used in winter.

“We really do everything we can to make patrol vehicles safe … to get through this type of season,” he said.

Oswald said all patrol vehicles at his department are all-wheel drive, but sometimes snow can become too deep for the patrol cars. The department also has two trucks and one larger SUV in these cases.

This year, the sheriff’s department added a plow to the list of equipment to be utilized during the winter.

“We did pick up a snow plow this year that will fit on either truck,” he said. The plow can be used to free stranded motorists.

Racicot explained the Gladstone Post transitioned all vehicles to all-wheel drive six or seven years ago.

“We have progressed to the all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive as a department,” Racicot said. “And this has increased our ability to get to people’s residences through snow and bad weather when they need us.

He said four-wheel and all-wheel drive allows troopers to get through the inclement weather, but they always have to maintain the perspective that it does not help with stopping in icy conditions and drive accordingly.

Racicot said driving in hazardous road conditions does add a certain amount of stress for troopers.

“Our driving actions are still our responsibility,” he said. “Our goal is to get where we need to go and not be another car in the ditch.”