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'Crazy stuff goes on at night' — Hop aboard with a City of Calgary snow-remover

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Glen Boulier admits he's a bit of a chatterbox.

The 58-year-old City of Calgary sander has a story for every stretch of road he plows in the deep southeast.

There was that one night where a soupy fog left him unable to make out the front of his plow or the 14 times he's been hit by fellow vehicles. He's had more run-ins with belligerent drunks and shady folks than he'd like to count and can go on for hours about the treacherous era when city crews were responsible for clearing the Deerfoot, referring to an icy Calf Robe Bridge as it was a living, breathing entity.

"You've got to go over her without touching the brake if you can help it," he explains. "You just coast."

But there is one thing that clams up the snow-remover of 33 years — the screeching of emergency sirens.

"I don't like that," he said during an exclusive Metro ride-along Wednesday night as a police cruiser whizzed by.

"That's what I always worry about, coming across something on your route where somebody's been involved in something. I hate that with a passion, because you just start thinking . . . did they wrap themselves around a pole for whatever reason? Was the road slippery?"

He pauses for a moment, "It's never your fault, really . . . maybe I'm just getting older. I guess that's part of the show."

As a stark reminder of the oft-harsh reality of Calgary winters, Boulier's foreman, running point out of the District 7 office, radioed a few times to warn drivers to steer clear of a severe crash Glenmore Trail at Deerfoot. When the sanding-plowing team had set off for their 12-hour shift, all that was known was a young boy had been rushed to hospital in life-threatening condition.

Before Boulier had completed one full lap of his route, the youngster had died.

The plower's been closer to the tragedy in years past, arriving on scene of three fatal crashes before the authorities. One incident, the details of which are too gory to publish, required the veteran plowman to seek counselling — that is, when not working the streets.

"I took three hours off after that," he said quietly. "I got it off my chest as best I could and went back to work that night."

There have been good situations, too. Boulier says he once grabbed a shovel and chased off an attacker "whaling" on an innocent woman in a downtown alley and even assisted police one night with corralling an offender involved in a high-speed pursuit.

"What can you say, really?" he questioned. "Crazy stuff goes on at night."

How does this year's winter stack up?

This winter's been a bad one, but Boulier's seen much worse. It's not so much the amount of snow, he explains, but the blowing winds and fluctuating temperatures.

Early on Wednesday, with snow still sprinkling the streets, he's simply trying to clear two lanes of traffic on Priority 1 routes like Glenmore and Barlow Trail. Later, he moves onto the Priority 2 roads, turning lanes and on-ramps.

Bridges take priority too, because they "ice up quick." In the early-morning hours, Boulier says he'll undertake a "search and destroy mission," eyeing particular trouble spots and clearing "devil strips," areas where snow has been pushed to the middle of a route. He prefers the nights because, "There's less traffic, you can get things done."

The worst routes are McKnight Boulevard and Glenmore Trail in high-wind conditions. You never want to "lose a road" - that is, force police to shut it down.

Boulier empathizes with residents trapped in their homes in the city's far reaches — his own neighbourhood hasn't been plowed since the snow started — but said crews have been running 24 hours a day since mid-October.

"We've got this urban sprawl as you know — we cover more real-estate than Manhattan now," he said, noting Calgary's population was just a hair over 300,000 when he began plowing. "If we get a winter where the temperatures don't dip below -15C, we're laughing. But when we got that really bad blizzard, I knew right then the city wouldn't be able to recovery quickly, we wouldn't be able to pull people out of the residential. You can put every ounce of machinery on the road you can, it's just not going to happen."

Metro also rode along with a City of Calgary priority route tow-truck driver, click here to read that story.

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