Outdoor workers brave the Merced heat to earn their keep

sjansen@mercedsunstar.comJuly 6, 2013 

As Dean Meyer knelt on the grass, ready to dig another hole, beads of sweat dripped from the tip of his nose like a leaky faucet.

During his lunch break, Meyer took advantage of a nearby fountain as he splashed some water on his face and head to cool down. He then found a spot in the shade to eat some lunch.

It was brief break from the sun, but it wasn't long before he was back to work.

While many Mercedians were protected from the extreme heat in their air-conditioned homes and offices, Meyer and two of his fellow city of Merced Public Works employees were digging holes and replacing sprinklers near the rose garden at Applegate Park on Tuesday.

The high in Merced on Tuesday was 107 degrees according to the National Weather Service in Hanford. Area residents won't get a break in the forecast the next few days, with a high of 109 expected today and 107 on Thursday.

For those whose jobs require them to work outdoors, there is no escaping the heat in the Central Valley during the summer months. Armed with plenty of water and sunscreen, they battle the triple-digit temperatures to earn their paychecks.

"You know it's going to be a long day," Meyer said. "You get yourself hydrated when you're preparing for work. This time of year, you know it's going to be hot. I bring a gallon of water every day, and I go through that pretty fast."

Meyer, 52, has worked in the Public Works Department for eight years. His co-worker Art Reyes, 49, has 22 years with the city.

"It's pretty much the same every year, we start working earlier in June," Reyes said. "That gets us off an hour earlier. That helps a little bit."

Public Works employees begin their work day at 6 a.m. during warmer months to get them out of the heat by 2:30 p.m.

"Most of guys know what they signed up for so you don't hear a lot of complaining when it gets hot," Meyer said. "We start earlier, and we try to get the heavy work done in the morning."

Nearby, there was a collection of plastic water and Gatorade bottles scattered around the three coolers near Dillon Colvin's work station on West 23rd Street.

Colvin, who lives in Atwater, works for Lawrence Backhoe Services, and on Tuesday they were replacing a sewer pipe. Dressed in fluorescent green shirts to help stay cooler Colvin and two of his co-workers were patching up the street after replacing the underground pipe.

"I think between the two of us, we've drank 16 waters and two Gatorades today," said Colvin, pointing to a co-worker standing in the shade. "The heat sucks, but it's better than sitting at home not making any money."

The high temperatures likely means slow work days at the Merced Mall Car Wash. According to owner Mason Eltareb, the extreme heat keeps customers away almost as much as the rain.

The 16 employees who work for Eltareb and his family's business at least get a reprieve from the sun by working under large canopies.

"I'd rather be here working outside than in my house because I don't have air conditioning," said Merced Mall Car Wash employee Maria Espinoza. "It does get hard when I have a really dirty car, and I have to spend an extra long time in a hot car. I am grateful when it gets this hot that we're not as busy. It makes it easier because we're not working as much."

Jeremy Spangler wasn't worried about keeping himself cool at work. The Applegate Park Zoo employee was busy trying to cool off some of the animals.

"All of our animals are native to California, so the heat doesn't bother them too much," Spangler said. "We have misters for some of the monkeys and they'll stand in front of it. We'll spray some of the animals with the hose. The emus and mountain lion love it. The raccoons play in the water."

The summer months are the busiest at work for Merced resident Willie Steverson, who works as an exterminator for Terminix.

Steverson doesn't leave for work without his big safari-like hat.

"I go through about a gallon and a half of water every day," said Steverson, who works in Los Banos, Dos Palos, Gustine and Santa Nella. "I have the air conditioner blasting every time I get back in the truck.

"I'm out of the truck 20 or 30 minutes and by the time I get back in I'm drenched. Working in the heat isn't super draining. It's more annoying than anything.

"It's the sweating and being uncomfortable because I have to wear long pants and long sleeves," Steverson said. "But the summertime is when I make the most money."

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