By Cheryl Higley
For Jake Czelada, Eastern Land Management’s shop and equipment manager, there’s no such thing as downtime (except the bad kind that comes with a breakdown). With year-round responsibilities for keeping the company’s fleet up and running through the seasons, Czelada knows the importance of scheduling fleet maintenance while also recognizing that sometimes Mother Nature has a mind of her own and equipment breakdowns are inevitable. To stay ahead of potential problems, Czelada implemented timelines and procedures to keep the Eastern Land Management (ELM) fleet snow ready. A jump on preseason
ELM’s transition from snow to spring landscape management typically begins in March, and that is when Czelada’s “preseason” truly begins.
“The day after snow season ends, we evaluate all of our equipment and make note of what is broken and what needs [to be] repaired,” he says. “We start ordering parts and make those repairs throughout the summer so that we aren’t rushing to get everything done by the start of the snow season.”
Once post-snow maintenance is taken care of, equipment is put away and a repair schedule is established, Czelada turns his attention to ELM’s green work, while looking ahead to August, which is when the company begins the transition - albeit in small steps - to winter. On the clock
ELM’s internal deadline to be ready for the snow season is Nov. 1, so Czelada uses that date and creates a fleet maintenance timeline. This year, his team began prepping for winter in early August.
“The easiest part of my job is making the preseason maintenance schedule,” he says. “The hardest part is trying to follow it. Our snow prep schedule begins when we’re still in the middle of mowing season and have fall cleanups to attend to before switching over to snow. It’s hard to stay on schedule because we’re still servicing that equipment and handling those breakdowns.”
The importance of having a schedule (even if it occasionally gets off track) allows Czelada to control the chaos of winter breakdowns: “I can’t predict when something is going to break, so I have to be prepared at all times for any possible scenario. Having procedures, schedules and an organized shop definitely make it easier to manage.”
Freak storm shifts preseason approach
Before joining Eastern Land Management in December 2013, Jake Czelada owned his own snow management company. A snowstorm that caught him by surprise one Halloween forever changed his approach to preseason preparedness.
“My plow was still in pieces. I was scrambling trying to put the mount on my truck and get everything rigged up as the snow was coming down,” he says. “Since then, being prepared early has been huge to me. People may think I’m crazy pulling out snow equipment in August, but at least I will know that come the end of October, my fleet will be ready to go.”
Keeping ahead of the preseason curve
Create a readiness schedule: If you don’t already have a preseason fleet readiness schedule, make one. Identify your company’s snow season kickoff date and calculate the amount of time you need to get your equipment ready. Leave plenty of time so you don’t have to rush to finish, knowing that current season maintenance and breakdowns may temporarily derail the schedule.
Consider a phased approach: Companies who perform other services may not be able to do a complete switchover to winter operations. ELM uses a phased approach, starting with one or two trucks with plows and spreaders being prepared early in the event of an early storm and adding more to the rotation as winter nears.
Equipment staging: Work with clients to stage equipment and materials on-site early. This cuts down on deployment time when the first event starts.
Open communication channels: Keep an open line of communication between all relevant parties in the company so they are aware of the maintenance program timeline.
Order parts early: The closer you get to the start of the season, the better the chance that parts will be on back order. ELM keeps a cabinet stocked with the parts that tend to break more often, as well as major parts, such as plow pumps, spreader motors, etc., that may be hard to come by in the middle of a storm.
Fix it fast: Keep an equipment “first aid” kit handy. Every ELM area manager has basic hand tools and a hydraulic hose repair kit in their truck as the first line of defense in the event of a breakdown.
Establish breakdown procedures: Establish breakdown procedures for your drivers and site managers to follow, including how to report problems and any documentation that is required.
Cheryl Higley is editorial director of Snow Business magazine.