As the third anniversary of the September 11 attacks approaches, we as a nation will honor the fallen heroes of that terrible day: the police, the firefighters and the selfless passengers on Flight 93 who gave their lives to try and save others in New York and Washington, D.C.
But it's also a good day to remember that such heroism isn't as rare as we might think, nor does it require the extremes we witnessed that horrible day. Many truck-related professionals are required to stand in harm's way each and every day, exposed to the vagaries of traffic flows and speed, well outside the limelight that will illuminate, and rightly so, the solemn remembrance ceremonies for the Sept. 11 dead.
This came to my mind last July as Washington D.C.'s Dept. of Public Works suspended trash collection for a day in order to allow its employees to honor one of their own — 38-yr.-old Johnny Harrison, a sanitation truck driver who was run over and killed after attempting to stop his runaway vehicle. Harrison wasn't even supposed to be working that day; he had had come in to help round out a shift.
Harrison died far away from our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, yet he performed a valuable public service. It's time professionals like him, as well as delivery drivers, telephone and cable repair workers, and postal workers, to name a few, receive some recognition for the work they do and the dangers inherent in their jobs.
“Without people like these, trash would be left to rot in the streets, grocery store shelves would be empty, and we wouldn't have phone service,” points out Jeff Swertfeger, director of advertising for the McNeilus companies. “The lay public just doesn't understand or takes for granted the importance of what they do. That mindset has to change.”
Swertfeger also points out that according to OSHA data, 24 refuse workers were killed on the job between 1999 and 2004, with inattentive motorists responsible for 60% of these fatalities. To help reduce the number of deaths and injuries, McNeilus, a subsidiary of Oshkosh Truck Corp., launched a public awareness campaign called “Slow Down to Get Around.” The goal is to get the driving public to be more careful when they approach trash trucks.
As part of the campaign, the company has produced public service announcements for television and radio. Swertfeger says that any municipality or private waste hauler that wants to broadcast the announcements could customize them to highlight their own operation.
Thus far, industry response has been tremendous. Groups from far away as Europe and Australia are asking for information about the program. In addition, municipal fleets in New York City, Salt Lake City and dozens of other major metropolitan areas are trying to line up funding to get the announcements on the air. For more information about the program, go to www.mcneiluscompanies.com.
Swertfeger thinks that in addition to raising safety awareness, the program can also bring attention to the importance of delivery jobs that have long been taken for granted. He points out that the public is already “very cognizant about how important it is to stop for school buses and maneuver slowly around them. They carry our kids, so there's a huge emotional attachment to that issue,” he says. “What we're trying to do is get the same emotional element involved for refuse workers and delivery people as a whole.”
So here's to appreciating all of the truck-based workers, both private and public, who make everyday life in this country work. We need all of them to keep our lives running. And they need us to help keep them safe.