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NICHOLAS MERCER: Gearing up for the cold

Brandon Sparkes photo - The sub-zero temperatures that have been a constant this winter on the west coast have meant people who normally work outside have had it rougher than usual. That includes lineman and commercial divers. Here, diver Rilley Allen exits the water with the assistance of dive tender Ryan Murphy.
Brandon Sparkes photo - The sub-zero temperatures that have been a constant this winter on the west coast have meant people who normally work outside have had it rougher than usual. That includes lineman and commercial divers. Here, diver Rilley Allen exits the water with the assistance of dive tender Ryan Murphy. - Contributed
CORNER BROOK, N.L. —

When Parrk Chaffey got out of bed Friday morning, he checks his phone as many of us do.

Plugging in his passcode, the 30-year-old from Corner Brook goes straight for the Environment Canada app.

As a lineman with Newfoundland Power, Chaffey is checking the weather forecast for the day. In particular, he is keeping a keen eye on the anticipated temperature.

"What it tells me decides what I am wearing to work that day," he said.

Working in Cormack on Friday, Chaffey prepared for an environment that felt like -27 C where the wind whipped off the clear farm land.

That meant he would need one t-shirt, three long sleeve shirts, a hoodie and a winter jacket.

Chaffey has been working as a lineman for the last seven years. He has seen some brutal winters, but nothing like the one we currently find ourselves in.

To say things have been cold this winter, would be putting it mildly.

Lame puns aside, the west coast of the island has seen temperatures routinely dropping below -10 C.

According to Environment Canada, Corner Brook has seen 45 days since November where the temperature dipped to the -10 C mark or lower at some point.

If you constantly finding yourself in a situation that made you face less than optimal conditions every work day, you think about finding a new work situation.

For me, if I found myself working in hot temperatures for days on end I would probably find something else to do.

That isn't Chaffey. The weather has never made him question getting up every morning.

"(The weather) made me question if I should move somewhere else though," he said.

The coldest temperature recorded was on February 20th. Coincidentally, the lowest record temp that day was -20 C. The highest for that day was -16.5 C.

Things haven't gotten any warmer.

March is giving us a steady dose of below zero temperatures, with hope in the forecast that it could break the Antarctic cycle that we find ourselves in.

Quite frankly, it is starting to get annoying.

Being cold is less than ideal.

For those of us who work in warm offices, it means a dash for the door in an attempt to avoid freezing in place at the start and the end of work days.

It also means a regular struggle with the snow and frost that falls on our vehicles overnight.

Imagine being Brandon Sparkes.

Not only does the commercial diver with Sparkes Subsea Construction spend a lot of time working outside, he spends parts of his days underneath the waves.

It means putting on multiple layers of clothing in an attempt to ensure he stays warm.

A key for him is trying not to exert himself too much. As sweat builds up, the base layers start accumulating water, which can lead to problems if you're trying to stay warm.

As one would expect, that changes underwater.

"You are going to get damp when you're underwater," said Sparkes. "The key is to stay moving to keep your body warm."

Usually, commercial divers spend between three and four hours underwater during a work day. To get prepared for their work, divers consume quite a bit of calories when they eat. They eat large meals and snack during the day in an effort to keep the body stocked with enough energy.

Like the rest of us, checking the weather and temperature forecast is a constant for him.

If there are extreme temperatures, the job gets put off until the conditions improve.

Preparation and vigilance are keys for Sparkes when working outside and in the water.

They have dry suits that, as the name suggests, keeps the person using one dry from outside liquids.

An integral piece of equipment, it requires plenty of inspecting looking for leaks and making sure everything is up to the task.

You might expect that Sparkes would welcome a change in seasons, but he said temperatures stay cold in the spring and some of the summer. In the fall, they level out before dropping again in the winter.

He doesn't get much of a break from it, while we are wishing our time away for a reprieve from winter.

Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with The Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at nicholas.mercer@thewesternstar.com.

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