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Thanks to our "responders!"

Commonwealth employees respond to needs during winter storm

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Transportation Cabinet Highway District 9 (Flemingsburg) has more than 150 highway equipment operators and dozens of engineers, timekeepers, mechanics, accountants and others - totaling as many as 200 employees - who directly responded to the latest winter storm threat beginning at 4 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 15. Plow and salt truck drivers, auto/truck technicians, and timekeepers worked continual 12-hour shifts for four days, finally going home Thursday evening, then returning the next day to prep for yet another storm and catch up on maintenance duties. These professional drivers cleared 9 to 12 inches of snow off all main roads within the first 36 hours of the storm, pushed snow on secondary roads and responded to another snowstorm Wednesday that left several more inches on roads, clearing them again by Thursday evening.  District mechanics did an amazing job keeping the trucks, plows, salt spreaders, and loaders up and running, working out in the elements when necessary. ​With more than 4,000 lane miles of highways and 75 snow plows and other road-clearing equipment, the snow response team worked seamlessly around the clock to keep routes open for emergency responders, commuters and commerce - and did a phenomenal job.  

Below, JD Donner,  who works in Highway District 5 (Louisville), gets ready for a long shift.​

The Fleminsburg and Louisville districts are two of 12 highway districts through the state. Each has a fleet of equipment and talented, dedicated personnel who work tirelessly to keep our highways safe throughout the year, but especially during winter weather conditions. ​

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Kentucky State Police and Commercial Vehicle Enforcement ​​assisted drivers, monitored roadways and served citizens stranded by the storm.  Officers worked long shifts in bitterly cold temperatures and dangerous conditions to make sure travelers and residents were safe.  Pictured above, Troopers Bryan Layne and Jimmy Stratton from KSP Post 9 utilized the post Hummer, acquired through the 1033 Military Surplus Program, to reach stranded residents in Floyd county.


chfs (1).jpg​The Kentucky Department for Public Health's State Health Operations Center (SHOC), in coordination with the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, was activated all week to support health and medical needs of communities across the commonwealth that have been affected by recent heavy snow and freezing temperatures.  Public Health staff have been having daily conference calls with healthcare partners and local health departments to assess needs and find solutions to challenges presented by the severe weather.  Some of the major activities include monitoring and inspecting shelters, tracking and verifying weather-related fatalities and coordinating urgent patient transport needs with the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services and local authorities.  

In addition, public health has worked with CHFS Communications to coordinate the release of information concerning the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, power outages, hypothermia and foodborne illness associated with extreme weather conditions.  The staff at the SHOC will continue to assist in identifying and responding to extraordinary health and medical needs as a result of this and any future weather event. 

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Kudos to the staff of the Kentucky State Parks. Staff members pitched in to keep their parks open during the winter storm by helping clear ice and snow from roads, parking lots and sidewalks. They also dealt with power outages, fixed broken water pipes, cleaned up from water leaks and cleared fallen tree limbs. ​

Photo: Captain Chris Early, Kentucky State Park Ranger, cuts fallen trees to clear a road at Kingdom Come State Park in Eastern Kentucky.​


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Kentucky Horse Park maintenance, equine and mounted police staff didn’t have the luxury of using leave time to stay home during the recent winter storm.  They had to get to work to take care of the horses and the park.  ​Pictured above, the horses were thrilled to see someone arrive to provide their breakfast of hay!​​

Protecting the air ​doesn't allow for a "breather"​

Photos: Environmental inspectors Joe Boggs (left) and Jeff Patton (right) fight the weather conditions to check monitoring stations.

You've probably seen them as you drive down the road: small buildings topped with strange-looking contraptions, surrounded by a fence.  These are Kentucky's air monitoring stations, and they are essential tools for telling us how clean our air is.

The Kentucky Division for Air Quality (DAQ) operates a network of these monitoring stations across the state, each with its own set of air sampling equipment to detect air pollutants. But the stations don't run themselves; it's up to DAQ staff to visit the stations regularly, to collect and replace filters and air samples and to make sure the equipment is working properly.  And their job doesn't stop for bad weather.

The monitoring equipment is typically located on top of the station building, accessed by ladder.  During heavy snow or ice events, staff not only has to travel to the station but also come armed with snow shovels and ice melt just to gain access to the station.

Some stations can be especially challenging to reach in a heavy snow.  Take the Grayson Lake site, for example.  This air monitoring station is located in the scenic rolling hills of Camp Webb near Grayson Lake in northeastern Kentucky.  The site received nearly a foot of snow in the recent winter storm.

The site at Smiths Grove also received about a foot of snow, but that didn't stop Tony Oakes from servicing the air monitoring equipment.  The snow was so deep that Tony had to park on the side of the road to keep from getting his four wheel drive vehicle stuck, and then trudge through the snow with his supplies some 200 yards to the monitoring station.

One type of air monitor is designed to detect fine particulate pollution by pulling air through special filters.  The filters must first be weighed in the division's weigh lab in Frankfort, and then be delivered by UPS to the field office nearest to the monitoring station.  What happens when UPS doesn't deliver?  Last week, staff drove hundreds of miles to hand-deliver filters, ensuring continued air sampling despite the bad weather.

Kentucky's air quality has improved dramatically in the 45 years since the Clean Air Act was passed.  Air monitors – and the DAQ staff who work with them – give us the essential data that enables us to chart our progress.   

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The Finance Cabinet Snow Team is comprised of staff in the Landscape Division.  They are often called out in the wee hours of the morning, usually around 4 a.m.  The Snow Team puts in long hours but works together to complete each task as quickly as possible. The Snow Team is truly an example of great teamwork, paying great dividends, in the most adverse weather conditions.  The Finance Cabinet's building maintenance staff has also been working long, hard hours, dealing with stopped-up gutters and downspouts and leaks in several areas of the Capitol and Capitol Annex.  ​

Pictured are members of the Snow Team. From L to R front row: Bill Blackburn, Ryan HixBeth SebastianGarth Vinson  
L to R back row: Joe HobsonRoss FlattHarper Smith 
Not pictured: Mark Nichols, James Ferguson, Sandy Perkins, Derrick Hammond, Tim Depenbrock, Duane Morgan 

May other members of the Finance Cabinet also made significant contributions to the storm recovery effort the week of Feb. 16.  ​The following individuals helped with removing snow, working on leak damage control, etc.​  Their efforts are appreciated!
Joel Benoit, Sean Benoit, Roger Blair, Jamie Boisseau, Gerald Brownlee, Chelsi Coburn, Terry Cox, Marcus Cross, Brian Dyer, Mary Evans, Jennifer Fey, Jimmy Flannery, David Greene, Mike Hale, Jason Hall, Tabatha Hall, Mary Hancock, Christina Harmon, Louis Harris, Mike Hasting, Roy Hill, Chris W. Hunter, LaMont Jackson, Connie Jupin, Barry Kendrick, Jeff McDonald, Shane McDonald, Daryl Miller, Bill Mingus, Don Moore, Joe Murphy, Scott Patterson, Billy Perkins, Chris J. Powell, Don Powers, Daniel Presley, Joel Ramey, Lisa Shelton, Aaron Stockton, Donald Tressler, Matt D. Turner, Maurice Walker, Roger Walker, Jud Browning, Joe Buniff, Michael Chadwell, Tim Depenbrock, Brent Dezarn, Nathan Durham, James Fergusson, Ross Flatt, Justin Hagy, Derrick Hammond, Camron Harrod, Ryan Hix, Joe Hobson, John Lee, Duane Morgan, Michael Morgan, Scotty Penn, Sandy Perkins, Ryan Reed, Harper Smith, Garth Vinson, Carl Durham, Steve Jackson, Nathan quire, Zoran Rudic, Mike Settles, Darren Slaughter​, Derrick Washington, Paul Weber, Glenn Webster, Wilgus Winkfield, Steve Yount.


Environmental Response Team deals with emergencies no matter the conditions
The Department for Environmental Protection's Environmental Response Team (ERT) is no stranger to working in the elements, although this past winter storm with its uncharacteristicly cold and deep snow presented some challenges. Not only did responses to routine environmental emergencies continue, but the weather contributed significantly to other needs.

Unrelated to the weather, Marathon Petroleum had a release of approximately 8,000 gallons of jet fuel from a pipeline running from its Algonquin Parkway facility in Louisville to the United Parcel Service hub at the Louisville International Airport. The deep snow and frigid temperatures made locating the leak, making repairs, and conducting emergency cleanup and investigation onerous tasks for pipeline technicians and responders. ERT members were in the middle of the chill the entire time of the response and identification of the spill area.

Other routine responses, such as transportation accidents and spills, underground storage tank incidents, and spills from oil production, only increased in frequency due to the weather. Response times increased and cleanups have been hampered by the weather, some of them delayed until snow and ice melt.

The worst victims of this winter storm are many Kentucky drinking water facilities and their customers, mostly located in the eastern part of the state. As many as 36,000 households have been without water as aging and undersized water treatment plants and distribution infrastructure are affected by extreme cold and weather-related delays in making repairs. ERT members have worked long hours with Division of Water, Transportation Cabinet, and Kentucky Division of Emergency Management to assess the shortages and provide alternate water sources to these areas with critical shortages to the most basic of human needs.

Danny Vernon: Helping kids build better lives

Danny Vernon.jpeg"If you build it, they will come" is a famous line from the baseball movie Field of Dreams. In a sense, that is exactly what happened to the Kentucky Labor Cabinet's Danny Vernon. Instead of baseball, though, it is basketball that is changing lives in his story.   

Danny Vernon is the partnership branch manager at the cabinet. He manages the safety consultants and administrators of the various programs that work with employers to help make Kentucky a safer place to work. He's been in that role since February of 2008, the same time the branch itself was created. He's been the only manager. Danny started in the Labor Cabinet in June of 1995. He was a safety consultant, and it was his first job after finishing school at Murray State. 

"It doesn't seem like it's been that long," he says with a smile. Danny is a tall man with short, silver hair and friendly eyes. He's a former power forward. He played basketball in high school and for the Army when he was in the service.

"I was raised in church," he says. "I joined the Army out of high school and later went to Murray State, and when I moved here I discovered Fox Creek."

A huge decision

Fox Creek is an independent, non-denominational church that started in Anderson County in 1841. Fourteen members worshipped in a log cabin b​y the Salt River, and it has been in the county ever since.

Fox Creek Christian Church made a big decision about nine years ago. The congregation averaged about 100-150 each Sunday, and for a small county in rural Kentucky it was a good-size church. But the members saw room for growth.  

"A lot of stats say that about 70 percent of the people in Anderson County don't go to church at all," Danny says.

In the last weekend of January 2007, the church opened a gymnasium. They called it the "Life Center" and decided they could use it for big meetings, special events, birthday parties and other large church activities. They could also use it for basketball.

"It was a huge decision," Danny says.

The church started a youth basketball program and put Danny in charge. He organized youth teams, hired referees, bought uniforms and basketballs, made schedules with other church teams and public schools. For the first few years he paid for a lot of items out of his own pocket.

The idea was to give kids a chance to play basketball. Even if they couldn't make their own school team or if they had been cut, they could play. There was no cost to join and no tryouts. There were no cuts. There was only one requirement: come to church at least once a week.

A special opportunity

They came. The kids turned up to play basketball. The program now has five teams: 5-6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade, junior varsity and varsity high school. Danny coaches them all.  "There is no recreational league in this area for students past sixth grade, so we offer an opportunity for them to play at a competitive level."

Now, the church is bursting with activity. Fox Creek has 350-400 members. There are two services on Sunday morning with the first Sunday of each month holding a combined service which has so many people that they cannot all fit in the sanctuary. They have to hold service in the gymnasium – the Life Center. There are Sunday and Wednesday evening services and a special youth meeting on Wednesday nights called "Fishface" that allows young people to hear a message, hang out, and have fun. The church has an ongoing effort to add girls' basketball teams, too.

"The primary goal was to get young people in church," says Danny. "There were a lot of kids not getting to hear the Word. My effort was to get them involved." It worked. And it is working still. Several of the players came for basketball – and eventually decided to be baptized and dedicate their lives to the work of the church.

"A parent told me that kids in athletics were 90 percent less likely to use drugs. Just being in sports helped them stay away from bad stuff," says Danny.  "Athletics is a microcosm for life," he continues. "Basketball helps you in life. When you're working hard, giving your best effort, that translates into all you do."

With five youth teams going strong from October to March, when Danny Vernon wraps up working with companies on safety and leaves the Labor Cabinet each night after work, there's a good chance he's going one place: to coach basketball. But he's doing a lot more than that: he's helping kids build better lives. And he's reminding us all about a good line from a movie: If you build it, they will come.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Lyon County Highway Maintenance Crew responds to all kinds of emergencies.  Over the years, Superintendent Jordan Yates thought his crew had encountered about every kind of situation he could imagine along Interstate 24.  However, the crew was called on to assist with response to an airplane crash that brought state employees face to face with both tragedy and triumph.

 Lyon County Crew assists airplane crash response

lyon county crew.jpgOn Friday, January 3rd, all but one member of a Mt. Vernon, Illinois, family were killed when their airplane when down in a wooded area off KY 810 about a mile north of US 62 in Lyon County.  The lone survivor, 7 year old Sailor Gutzler, climbed out of the wrecked aircraft and made her way through about 3/4ths of a mile of heavy brush and woods.  The youngster arrived at the home of Larry Wilkins where she sought help for her family.

Dozens of volunteers headed to the site to search for the plane, with the hope there might be other survivors.  Sam Thomason, a member of the Lyon County Highway Crew who also serves on the Lyon County Rescue Squad, was among the first to pinpoint the location of the downed plane.  By the time other members of the highway crew were contacted to aid in locating the aircraft, the plane was found and searchers determined there were no other survivors.

After two days of recovery efforts, many of the first-responders to the crash were nearing exhaustion when the highway crew was called to take over traffic control needed to assist with recovery of the crashed aircraft.

"We were happy to play a small part in the emergency response effort," Yates said.  "We all wish there had been more survivors.  All of the agencies involved in the response were just in awe of that brave little girl who survived the crash, then had the strength and determination to find her way to a nearby house to seek help.  The miracle of her survival is something we'll never forget."

The crash claimed the lives of 48 year old Marty Gutzler, his wife 46 year old Kimberly Gutzler, their daughter 9 year old Piper Gutzler, and their niece 14 year old Sierra Wilder as the family was returning home from a Florida vacation.  The National Transportation Safety Board found initial indications that the aircraft had some type of engine problem or ran out of fuel.  A full investigation report is expected to take about a year to complete.

PHOTO:  Lyon County Highway Crew Superintendent Jordan Yates is on the right.  Sam Thomason is 4th from the right.  He's the only guy without a cap.