Fargo's cleanup week workers share nitty-gritty details of the annual 'daunting task'
Every day, cleanup workers walk more than 10,000 steps, said Austin Nowak, who has worked with Fargo Public Works for seven months.
FARGO — Corey Houim darted between workers waiting to begin their shifts during the second leg of cleanup week. The sun had just risen. The smell of coffee and greased engine parts hung thickly in the air at Fargo Public Works.
The main lobby was a hubbub of laughter, greetings and conversation until the clock struck 7 a.m., when workers climbed onto purring backhoes, dump trucks and Bobcats, moving like an army onto 23rd Street North toward their assigned areas.
The second week of the city’s annual cleanup began, albeit not under ideal conditions.
“There are some impressive piles out there. And of course, everything is going to be wet and heavy because of the rain,” said Houim, street supervisor.
Cleanup week offers residents the opportunity to dispose of tires, appliances and other large items at no cost. Fargo and Moorhead are in the second week, while West Fargo and Dilworth's cleanup week ran from May 1-5.
Bryant Doschadis, a backhoe driver on one of the cleanup crews, has worked cleaning up curbsides during cleanup week for years. His crew consists of eight people in total: the cleaners, a Bobcat driver, multiple dump trucks and a pickup truck hauling a portable toilet, an addition that began three years ago.
Before portable toilets were added to each cleanup crew, workers had to stop at gas stations for restroom breaks, Doschadis said.
“It really helps just keeping the flow of everything going,” he said. “With eight-hour shifts, there’s a lot to get done in one day, and you lose time when you have to go to the restroom.”
Halfway through cleanup week, Doschadis said the most memorable item they’ve cleaned up was a toilet full of human waste, which is considered a hazardous material and an item not to be set out for pickup.
“It was disgusting,” Doschadis said.
In addition to normal garbage and recycling crews, 61 workers are deployed to pick up trash during cleanup week, Houim said.
All but 10 of the workers are employed by the city. The rest are hired through Labor Masters, he said.
While picking up the pieces of a fiberglass shower stall, Will and Deedee Engelke, husband and wife, said they applied for the job through Labor Masters because they needed the money.
“We signed up for it, and this is where they sent us,” Will Engelke said.
“And I would rather do outside work. I think we’ll be back next year,” Deedee Engelke said.
Every day, cleanup workers walk more than 10,000 steps, said Austin Nowak, who has worked with Fargo Public Works for seven months. He hasn’t calculated how far he walks every day, but the two weeks of work can be tiring.
Nowak is in charge of driving the pickup truck that hauls the portable toilet, which offers a short but needed break when he drives it to the next block.
“It can be a long week, but it is certainly different from day to day work. It’s been a fun week,” he said.
Perched high above the others in a Case backhoe, Doschadis reminisced about working on the streets picking up trash for three consecutive years.
“I feel bad for them, because I used to be right there,” he said.
Amid piles of bagged leaves, fluorescent lights, tires and toys, mattresses were king. On every block, curbsides were piled high with old box springs and mattresses. Some also threw out wooden furniture, treadmills and Christmas trees, satellite dishes and the ubiquitous vacuum cleaners.
In addition to the garbage crews, Houim also had two crews picking up metal. One crew was hauling away any equipment with fluorocarbons inside, like freezers, while two crews were picking up tires and rims.
The crews follow recycling day routes, “so anyone with the blue can out, that’s the route we take,” Houim said.
Cleanup week began in Fargo before 1997, when Houim started working with Fargo Public Works, he said. During his time, he has seen just about everything a person can imagine on the curbside including boats, large sections of cars, building materials and freezers full of rotten food.
“Pretty much whatever you can think of, no doubt about that. There is not supposed to be construction materials or concrete, but there always is. Over the years, any part of a home, we’ve seen it all,” Houim said.
If crews come across cars or boats, the vehicles are taken to the impound first so that they are spared immediate crushing, he said.
Any loose garbage should be put into bags or boxes, Houim reminded residents, so that workers don't leave a mess behind.
“We don’t like it when everything is out there randomly, and (we have to) leave such a mess on the boulevard," Houim said. "It’s a daunting task, but it’s a good time to get everything cleaned up. It’s a good benefit for everyone in town."