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Multiple layers of clothing not enough for workers who must be outdoors

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On days when the temperature doesn’t get as high as zero outside, postal carrier George E. Sibley can’t help but think about retirement.

He admittedly thought a lot about hanging up his mail bag for good during his eight-hour shift on Wednesday.

Outside in such brutal cold, Mr. Sibley, 51, said the recent cold snap is as cold as he has ever had to work in his 26 years delivering the mail. Even with five layers of clothing and two pairs of gloves on, he just could not stay warm.

“My hands are not working today,” he said on his rounds of about a dozen streets on the city of Watertown’s south side.

When he started work at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Watertown International Airport recorded the temperature at 35 below. At the end of his shift at 5 p.m., it had warmed up to minus 2 degrees.

It was the kind of day when you got out of bed wanting to go right back under the covers, he said.

But Terry M. Duffy, 36, a mechanic and tow-truck operator with Miller’s Garage on Huntington Street, said he is “used to this kind of stuff” after working in the elements on a farm for 15 years.

On Wednesday, he was either inside an SUV while going on a couple of dozen calls, or out in the cold while jump-starting vehicles, repairing flat tires and getting into locked vehicles. His two keys for keeping warm: long johns and putting the heat in the SUV as high as it can go.

“Everyone does something different,” he said about his strategy.

Pizza delivery man Nicholas R. Beyer, 27, who also works in the kitchen at Bernardo’s Pizzeria on Coffeen Street, said business has been busy with people not wanting to pick up their food.

On these frigid days, he wears a T-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, a pair of jeans, his Columbia winter coat and snow boots to try to keep warm. And he keeps the engine running on his car when he goes out for a delivery.

Exposure to drastic temperature swings from working around hot pizza ovens and then going outside when it’s well below zero can make the cold seem even worse, he said.

“I just try to stay busy, just try to keep moving,” he said.

It was so cold the past couple of days that Eugene P. Hayes, the city’s public works superintendent, had his crews working only on projects that would keep them from being outside, he said. Only workers picking up trash were outside, Mr. Hayes said.

The other DPW crews focused on snow removal by working in dump trucks and loaders, instead of completing tasks in the cold, he explained.

State Department of Transportation crews in Watertown also used the same strategy, said highway maintenance supervisor Paul E. Robbins. Keeping an eye on the weather forecasts, they were only going to go outside in case of an emergency or accident, he said. And they bring more workers with them, to be on the safe side, he said.

“We rotate people so they don’t get frostbite,” he said. “You try to limit their exposure.”

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