Workers out in the deep freeze

Thermometers dropping below 20F at the JFK International Airport were marking the “polar vortex” that moved cold air into the New York area. Mechanics climbing up on engines, up on stands, the wind blowing, the snow blowing and the cherry pickers bouncing back and forth were the panorama in the storm-free days. An endless list of workers had to beat freezing temperatures to get plane after plane ready to takeoff.

“You are just trying to do what you got to do,” said Michael Ramirez, 60, an aircraft mechanic from the Bronx. “When I go outside my fingers get numb and they hurt but I love what I do and I have been working on this for 40 years.” Ramirez said that one of the worst parts of working on the cold is when the tools get frozen.

Workers on the streets face the same icy hurdles. “We have to be out here, rain, snow, whatever, we have to do our job,” said Michael Heraldo, 53, a street cleaner for 34St partnership. “As long as I got good boots, gloves and a hat on I’m good.

Sanitation and construction workers, delivery guys, police officers, promotion teams,street vendors, all agree on how serious a person has to be about the cold weather.

Nuts vendor on a freezing day at the corner of 8th Ave and West 33rd St. New York
Nuts vendor on a freezing day at the corner of 8th Ave and West 33rd St. New York

“You have to try to stay warm,” said Mohamed Hossain, a nuts vendor at the corner of 8th Ave and West 33rd St. “It’s very cold to work this days here. I put on a heavy jacket and shirt, heavy socks and my hat.”

Despite the freezing conditions people like Hossain continue to work everyday to chance some income like he has been doing for over three years in the same place. “This is my business,” Hossain said, “I work for commission selling nuts. I have four different kinds: almond, ketchup, coconut and peanut.”

With shifts of an average of 8 to 12 hours, other workers keep the city going. Durlon Singerman Smallhorne is a deliveryman that works for UPS. To stand to deep-freezing conditions he said, “I’d stay maybe the longest outside getting packages together but then I go inside the building to get warm.”

At UPS every morning employers are trained in safety protocols. “They teach us stuff like to hold on to the railing before you come off the truck specially when there’s snow”; Smallhorne said, “and to put cones in the back of the truck so the vehicles don’t come too close.”

According to the American Red Cross Greater NY Region, if you have to go outside you just need to take necessary precautions because cold weather increases the risks of hypothermia and frostbites.

“Try to avoid exposure of your extremities to the cold,” said Michael de Vulpillieres, an American Red Cross spokesperson. “Make sure you are wearing confortable light warm clothing in layers. Try to be vary mindful of your own physical abilities, take breaks, stay hydrated an avoid things that could dehydrate you like alcohol or caffeine.”

Freezing conditions will continue for some days. Whether to work outside, or just commute, New Yorkers should be aware of the weather before leaving their home and take the necessary precautions.

“You get use to work in the cold.” Said Smallhorne. “After a while you try to take your mind away from the feeling.”

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