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The Unsung Heroes Behind Nemo Cleanup

BU staff, students work double, triple shifts

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About 12 hours into their long shift on Saturday, Joseph Pereira and his custodial crew hit a wall. It was 3 a.m. and the snow was falling at a rate of two inches an hour, with wind gusts that made it impossible “to see a foot in front of your nose,” Pereira recalled. He and his team were forced to retreat inside East Campus buildings, where they crashed on couches until 7 a.m., when they returned to battle the storm for another 16 hours—stopping only for the occasional cup of coffee and bite to eat or to find an indoor haven to warm frozen fingers and toes.

Funnily enough, “everybody was happy,” said Pereira, who has been a BU custodian for nearly 20 years. “The way the University treats all custodians, we can tell people care for us, and we care for them.”

Pereira was among several hundred BU employees with jobs deemed essential who worked double, and in some cases triple, shifts over three days to clear snow, feed hungry diners, provide security, and staff Student Health Services and the BU Medical Campus as other employees waited out the storm in the comfort of their homes.

Joseph Pereira, Boston University Facilities Management

Joseph Pereira, a lead custodian in East Campus, supervised a crew that cleared snow from Friday afternoon through Saturday night. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Although not as fierce as the fabled Blizzard of ’78, Nemo (as the weekend blizzard was christened), did make it into the record books. Between Friday morning and late Saturday afternoon, the winter storm dumped more than two feet of snow on Boston and the surrounding area, produced hurricane-force winds, and caused flooding in coastal communities, making it the fifth worst blizzard in the city’s history.

While Boston maintenance crews removed snow from major roadways like Commonwealth Avenue, BU staff took care of everything else around campus. Ray Bourgeois, manager of grounds and masonry, directed two shifts of 28 snowplow and Bobcat operators as they removed snow from side streets, parking lots, and sidewalks starting early Friday and continuing until noon Saturday. He made sure that his staff remained safe, kept their spirits up through the long slog, and were able to repair equipment whenever it broke down—which, as it turns out, was often.

When he finally left BU Saturday afternoon, Bourgeois went home and immediately set about shoveling his own driveway. Sunday wasn’t much better—he woke to water leaking through his roof from frozen ice dams. Five hours of high-altitude shoveling later, he was finally able to rest.

“It was definitely an experience,” he said. “Hopefully we don’t see another one of those for a long time.”

Ray Bourgeois, Boston University Facilities Management, manager of grounds and masonry

Grounds and masonry manager Ray Bourgeois logged more than 24 hours coordinating snow removal across the Charles River Campus. Photo by Cydney Scott

Across the Charles River Campus, a total of 15 custodial crews cleared snow from sidewalks and stoops abutting University buildings. Demka Fehric, a custodial area manager for Central Campus, led a team of 10 people from early Friday morning through Saturday afternoon, occasionally taking breaks to catch a nap on lounge couches or fuel up in a dining hall. Her team experienced few problems, beyond some snowblowers running out of gas near the end of the storm and the biting wind that “hit your face almost like a needle.” Her solution for the wind? Vaseline: “Everything just slides off.”

On the Medical Campus, director of facilities operations James Munroe remained on site from early Friday morning through late Sunday afternoon (abetted by occasional naps on his office air mattress) to coordinate 10 truck drivers and 15 custodians tasked with clearing snow in whiteout conditions. “They’d do a sidewalk,” he said, “and 15 minutes later it’d look like they hadn’t done a thing”

BU staff and Boston Medical Center employees teamed up to ensure that everyone staying through the storm was well fed, had a place to rest, and could park their car—despite the citywide parking ban in a neighborhood with few open lots.

Demka Fehric, Custodial Manager, Boston University Facilities Management

Demka Fehric, an area manager in Central Campus, said wind "hit your face almost like a needle" while removing snow over the weekend. Photo by Vernon Doucette

About 70 Charles River Campus Dining Services staff couldn’t get to work, but the dining halls managed to remain open despite a bare-bones crew, bolstered by student employees like Anna Knox (SAR’14). She normally works 10 hours a week as an office assistant and concessions manager, but between Friday and Saturday alone, she logged 28 hours.

“I just did pretty much whatever they needed me to do,” Knox said, including sautéing onions, staffing the pizza station, and calling cabs to take staff home. “As stressful as it was, it was a lot of fun. I love my coworkers and bosses.”

Some 50 of the shifts were covered by student employees who volunteered to fill in.

According to marketing director Scott Rosario, Dining Services served about 33,000 meals from Friday to Sunday, about 2,000 more than usual.

Executive chef Chris Bee oversaw 200 student and Dining Services employees, who daily fed 11,000 diners breakfast, lunch, and dinner over the long weekend. In many ways it was a typical weekend for him, except that when his shifts ended, he personally shuttled employees to and from their homes or a nearby hotel, where BU had rented 60 rooms for essential staff. On Friday, he even drove employees to pick up their children at day-care centers after the MBTA had officially shut down. Because of the statewide transportation ban, Bee was escorted by officers from the BU Police Department.

“People stepped up to the plate,” Bee said, adding that senior food service director Joseph Cacciatore even delivered meals to wheelchair-bound diners living in residence halls.

Isiah Willis, Boston University BU ResLife residential life dormitory studen residence security guard

Isiah Willis, a senior security assistant at 575 Commonwealth Ave., worked a triple shift to cover for coworkers. Photo by Cydney Scott

All across campus, 13 security guards pulled double and triple shifts at 11 residence halls to cover for a handful of colleagues who were unable to make it to BU.

Isiah Willis, a senior security assistant at HoJo—aka 575 Commonwealth Avenue—worked a triple shift that started Friday afternoon and lasted through Sunday morning, checking IDs, signing in guests, and ensuring the safety of residents. He relied on energy drinks and occasional chats with colleagues to stay awake. When he finally punched out, he had to walk for more than an hour to reach his Roxbury home. His take on the weekend? “I was kind of exhausted,” he admitted with a laugh.

Just after 11 p.m. on Saturday, dead-tired and in need of a shower, Pereira and his crew called it a day. Technically, two days. Once home, Pereira grabbed a shovel one last time, and for the next hour and a half, dug out a parking space. Then, finally, he rested: “I slept ’til noon on Sunday.”

63 Comments
Leslie Friday, BU Today, Boston University
Leslie Friday

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @lesliefriday.

63 Comments on The Unsung Heroes Behind Nemo Cleanup

  • Vivian on 02.13.2013 at 6:23 am

    Thank you to all the BU employees who went above and beyond to help keep the campus happy and safe during the storm! It is really great to be able to put names and faces to the people who work so hard in the harshest weather. To all BU essential employees, those mentioned personally in this article and those many more not mentioned, THANK YOU!

  • J on 02.13.2013 at 7:02 am

    Why don’t you recognize all of the men and women who worked 40+ hours from Friday to Saturday with NO BREAK and have been out every night since, plowing and removing snow from our campus and city? I feel like they’re the real unsung heros.

  • Jonathan on 02.13.2013 at 7:05 am

    As a new resident of the area, living near east campus, I was very impressed by how BU and the staff handled the blizzard. The crew was on top of it continuously from moment the snow started through today. Well done!

  • Meredith on 02.13.2013 at 7:19 am

    I was thinking about this after both public transit and the roads were shut down for the storm. It is great that this article is in BU Today. I have even more respect and appreciation for the janitors, police, and dining hall workers at BU! Thank you!!

  • Michael Zank on 02.13.2013 at 7:34 am

    Thanks for recognizing the hard extra work custodial staff was doing for the university. But you make it all sound rather idyllic and heroic. You fail to mention that these employees, many of whom work late shifts and for a minimum wage, were ordered to work overtime. Some had to drive in blizzard conditions to work on Saturday morning after working Friday until midnight. Many of these workers are women who have families to care for at home, but they cannot risk not showing up even under these conditions. It would be more impressive had students skipped their work-out routines and taken up shovels to help out. Here as elsewhere, entitlement and privilege prevail.

    • Jeff Bouchard on 02.13.2013 at 8:11 am

      Well put…

      • John Johnson on 02.14.2013 at 7:31 pm

        Being a BU Employee and often interacting with Facilities Management Staff (janitors), I can assure you that they are part of Union and are paid very well in general, and were most likely receiving premium pay in the event of a weather emergency. If they were anything like me, the overtime is welcome and only forced when no one volunteers to take it which is almost never the case

    • Student on 02.13.2013 at 9:38 am

      Cmon now. Students did help out in the dining halls, but can you imagine the pandemonium and lack of efficiency if there was suddenly a couple hundred or thousand of students just shoveling and blowing snow everywhere? Most people can’t even shovel their driveways correctly, let alone a massive campus. It would have been an unmitigated disaster.
      I think the article does a great job of showing how much extra effort and commitment BU custodial and other staff showed in a stressful situation. Don’t make this an entitlement and privilege issue, it’s not.

      • M on 02.13.2013 at 10:16 am

        well put

      • Agreed on 02.13.2013 at 5:50 pm

        I wonder if Professor Zank was aware that his full name and faculty website would appear along with this statement condemning some of the own students he teaches.

    • AP on 02.13.2013 at 10:35 am

      FitRec was closed during the blizzard, so I don’t know what the statement ” It would be more impressive had students skipped their work-out routines…” is supposed to mean.

      I commend BU for closing FitRec, too.

    • Nikitasha on 02.13.2013 at 1:13 pm

      Yes very true.. This article makes it seem like all employees were more than enthusiastic to come to work. It is a positive spin instead of saying that, actually, they were forced to come or stay longer than expected. Still, this message is necessary and important. Words cannot express enough thankfulness that these employees deserve.

    • Not So Cynical on 02.13.2013 at 4:56 pm

      While I am sure that these employees were not jumping up and down at the chance to work so hard for so long during the blizzard, I do not think anyone should be using this as an opportunity to scorn students. This article is great because it’s praising those who don’t normally get the praise they’ve earned. There is no reason to taint the gratitude that Leslie and all of these other commenters have expressed with a completely unnecessary and cynical opinion on the students. As a student myself, not only am I offended that someone would categorize all of us like this, but I couldn’t disagree with the opinion more. I’m sorry if anyone feels like the students here are too “entitled and privileged”, but based on all these comments, it seems like they’re appreciative and grateful. Lastly, I’d like to end this on a positive note because I really do think everything the custodians, dining hall workers, security guards, etc. did this past weekend was incredible: thank you all for your hard work, dedication, and sacrifice and know that it has not gone unnoticed!

      • Appalled Parent on 02.13.2013 at 5:54 pm

        Very surprised, and dismayed, to read these comments from a professor of religion, no less. You owe an apology to the students of BU!

    • A on 02.14.2013 at 2:26 pm

      While I don’t really get behind your position that the students have the responsibility here, I agree with you about the non-idyllic nature of these events. But I have to call you out on the sexism of your comment “women who have families to care for at home.” Why not “people who have families”? Or do you not think the men in these families share the responsibility for taking care of them?

    • Megan on 02.15.2013 at 12:05 pm

      Same thoughts going through my head. Doesn’t seem right to turn this into a PR opportunity for BU…

    • Anonymous on 02.17.2013 at 7:41 pm

      Considering I am one of the students who worked overtime in the dining hall to help out feeding the students because some people couldnt get to work, I find it a little insulting you would say that. Plus it doesnt even make sense your comment about skipping workout routines because Fitrec was closed. You should be thanking the students as well

  • Kaori on 02.13.2013 at 7:40 am

    Just want to express my gratitude to all the fantastic BU employees who worked all weekend to keep us safe. You are awesome!

  • Grateful student on 02.13.2013 at 7:42 am

    Thank you all so, so much!!!! This campus would not be as amazing if it were not for the heavy duty work of our custodial staff. I often brag about the excellent work of you all to other students from different schools.

  • David McBride on 02.13.2013 at 7:42 am

    Thanks to all of the great folks who helped to care for our community during the storm! One of the many ways that the people at BU look out for one another.

  • Grateful Student on 02.13.2013 at 7:58 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • appreciative prof on 02.13.2013 at 8:26 am

    Profound thanks to all the BU employees who gave tremendous effort to the university over the blizzard weekend. And bravo BU Today for highlighting their work. My school has such an efficient, dedicated, and friendly staff. It’s nice to see this part of our community get some of the recognition they deserve on a daily basis.

  • Meagan on 02.13.2013 at 8:31 am

    As a student who has worked at dining halls (when the weather wasn’t even miserable), I remember being amazed at how hard the employees worked—as well as how much garbage they had to put up with from the students.
    I would really like to thank everyone who helped keep us students safe while we were playing in the snow like a group of 3-year-olds.

  • Daniel John Carroll on 02.13.2013 at 8:45 am

    I’d also like to extend my biggest thanks to all the employees who worked so hard over the past few days! Your efforts are very much appreciated!

    Now go get some rest!:)

  • SG on 02.13.2013 at 9:00 am

    Many thanks to all the BU employees who worked so hard, including those not mentioned in the article!

  • M on 02.13.2013 at 9:03 am

    Thank you for this article!

    I always tell people (that don’t work at BU) that the BU facilities, grounds, janitorial and security staff are the very best of any establishment anywhere. I am constantly amazed at how fast they clean up, how walkable the footpaths and sidewalks are and how clean the buildings are! Not to mention how exceedingly pleasant the staff is.

    You can tell where BU ends and city of Boston begins because the sidewalks go from *perfect* to less-nice or even unshoveled at times.

    Thank you for taking time away from your families so we can get a break from the slog when we come to work. It’s a pleasure working at an establishment with such a committed and excellent staff!

    I hope BU’s higher ups take notice of our wonderful crew here, and compensate accordingly!

    Thanks again!

  • Stop on 02.13.2013 at 9:04 am

    Very nice article. Thanks to those who spent the entire weekend here at BU doing their best to make it safe for the students and employees!

  • Another Grateful Student on 02.13.2013 at 9:04 am

    Thank you so much to the staff and students at BU that worked so hard after Nemo and every day of the year! We all appreciate the work that you do!!

  • Tim H. on 02.13.2013 at 9:07 am

    Thank you to everyone working through the storm. It was an enormous endeavor and, I’m sure, a personal sacrifice for you and your families.

    There is no better team on any campus. You certainly beat the cities and towns!

  • Many Thanks on 02.13.2013 at 9:24 am

    Thank you so much to everyone who helped us students this weekend! Thanks also for writing a great article!

  • Susan on 02.13.2013 at 9:24 am

    Thank you so much to all of our dedicated BU custodial staff and other essential employees! As a staff member at BU I work with custodial staff a lot for events on campus and every encounter I’ve had has always been a positive one. You all are always willing to help and this article just confirms how amazing you all are. THANK YOU!

  • Susan sloane on 02.13.2013 at 9:27 am

    All of us at the Hillel House want to send our thanks to all of the BU staff and students that worked so tirelessly so that our campus would be cleared of snow, the students fed and our facilities secure. We so appreciate your hard work and dedication to the university. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

  • Emily on 02.13.2013 at 9:30 am

    THANK YOU for bringing attention to these wonderful people! LOVE that you chose to make this a priority for all students to see. <3

  • Broke Student on 02.13.2013 at 9:56 am

    Thanks for the good job over the weekend — justifies the high tuition cost at BU!

  • Liz on 02.13.2013 at 9:57 am

    Thank you so much to the wonderful staff and students who worked so hard during the storm. BU is lucky to have such a dedicated, hardworking community of people – especially the custodial staff. You’re amazing!

  • Samantha M Khosla on 02.13.2013 at 10:00 am

    BU does a better job with snow removal than the city does. Thank you for your good work!

  • Caleb D. on 02.13.2013 at 10:06 am

    Excellent and necessary piece, Leslie, well-reported. And huge thanks to all those essential employees, who more than live up to that designation. Adding the Vaseline trick to my playbook!

  • Lindsay Kleekamp on 02.13.2013 at 10:08 am

    Thank you, BU Today, for recognizing the very hard work done by so many great people in our community, and thank you to those folks for all their efforts! I am very disappointed, however, to see that a member of our faculty expressed such disdain for our students in his comment above. Dr. Zank, how to you reconcile your opinion that “entitlement and privilege prevail” here with the fact that many students volunteered to work extra hours in the dining halls? Or with the above expressions of gratitude from many other students? And which shovels should our students have taken up in order to help out … ones they brought from home?

    • Appalled Parent on 02.13.2013 at 4:37 pm

      Well said, Lindsay!!

  • Kasey on 02.13.2013 at 10:19 am

    Yeah Demka! So glad you’re being recognized for all the work you do!

  • Jordan E. on 02.13.2013 at 10:37 am

    As an undergraduate, I’m super grateful for the commitment of the facilities, management and planning and dining services staff during Nemo. Many thanks!

  • Sally Sommers Smith on 02.13.2013 at 10:47 am

    Thank you so much to ALL BU facilities personnel! Your work and dedication have made life on campus this week so much easier!

  • CC on 02.13.2013 at 10:51 am

    Thank you!

  • Louise on 02.13.2013 at 11:00 am

    The “unsung staff” iS just one of the impressive parts of BU. I can still remember when our daughter was a rising junior on an admissions tour, and one of the parents on the tour group said “don’t those communal bathrooms get really nasty? The tour guide looked at her with big eyes, and said “No. Our housekeeping staff does a superior job. I have lived in five buildings now, and uniformly our housekeeping staff has been helpful, kind, and diligent. They clearly like the students, and we like them. We don’t trash our bathrooms.” I almost fell over.

  • Student #2 on 02.13.2013 at 11:19 am

    Good job by BU for having hotel rooms for the staff that had to stay during the storm. It all went pretty smoothly. Thanks a lot!

    • Nikitasha on 02.13.2013 at 1:13 pm

      That’s pretty cool, I didn’t know that.

  • Liz Webb on 02.13.2013 at 11:21 am

    My daughter attends BU and my husband is on call all the time to do snow and ice removal for his job. I know what he goes through doing that kind of work. I commend all those who work so hard nights, holidays and weekends to remove snow, ice, etc. The employees doing this deserve more pay and bonuses for doing this type of physical, outdoor work, especially when working well over 8 hours per day.

  • Liz on 02.13.2013 at 11:35 am

    Thank you for giving recognition to the excellent BU staff. In my four years and visits since, the campus is ALWAYS well cared-for, through all weather. It is noticed and appreciated.

    I do, however, second Lindsay’s disappointment with Dr. Zank’s comment. I can only imagine the feeling if one of Dr. Zank’s students sees it; I know I would be saddened to read that one of my own professors held my fellow students and me in such contempt.

  • BU staff on 02.13.2013 at 11:44 am

    Our campus is the cleanest part of the city thanks to the wonderful work of the facilities staff. Their hard work is very much appreciated!

  • an appreciative student on 02.13.2013 at 5:26 pm

    Thank you for the article that gave recognition to those who worked so hard to keep our campus clean and safe! It’s something we don’t think about much as we return to campus, sometimes complaining about the inconveniences brought by the snow or the classes resuming again. A HUGE THANKS to all the named and unnamed staff at BU who put forth so much hard work in such severe conditions to help things run smoothly on campus. Even on non-stormy days, these wonderful people work day and night to keep BU nice and clean. THANK YOU!

  • Ana Maria on 02.13.2013 at 7:32 pm

    An immense THANK YOU to all the BU custodial and grounds crew who go above and beyond to make sure our campus is ALWAYS well-kept.

  • BU student Parent on 02.13.2013 at 9:48 pm

    Thank you to all at BU for the dedication and hard work during Nemo.

  • jer on 02.14.2013 at 9:17 am

    im a parent and i kept checking the Marsh Plaza Web Cam through out the storm. i saw them attempting to snowblow that area. I took screen shots of them working. it looked brutal! From the aerial view you couldnt tell if he was making any progress keeping up with the snow. pic.twitter.com/dxr4aR4g THAT MAN IS AWESOME!

  • rich v on 02.14.2013 at 11:21 am

    It is so nice to here the comments from everybody. the one thing that should be said is we are a family and with out the help of everybody student ,staff ,managers and the workers, of all departments. The results would be different. As far as the students and parents, lets not forget why we all have jobs and with all included we thank you.

  • MIchael Zank on 02.14.2013 at 1:00 pm

    I apologize for what some took as a blanket statement about student entitlement. In my nearly twenty years of teaching and advising at BU I’ve met many students who displayed no sense of entitlement. As a rule the students I interact with are polite, diligent, and very concerned about doing well and getting the best education they can.

    • Appalled Parent on 02.14.2013 at 4:25 pm

      If that is what you truly believe, Dr. Zank, then what was your original comment referencing? You seem to be apologizing simply because people on this page called you out for VERY insensitive comments about the students of BU. Your original statement was not misunderstood…it was very clear. The use of the word “prevail” says it all.

      • Michael Zank on 02.14.2013 at 9:03 pm

        I understand your concern. My comment intended to say the very opposite of what you took it to mean. I am not one of those who believes that BU students are somehow more entitled or privileged than students in comparable institutions. Many people across town, not just students, rely on an underclass of hard-working, underpaid people, the much cited working poor, to do the work they somehow feel entitled to ignore. I see it everywhere. That’s why I spoke of a “prevailing” of entitlement. It’s everywhere I look. My comment was driven by what I felt was a nice but ultimately patronizing gesture toward the workers who had very little say in the matter of being commandeered to shovel snow for hours in inclement weather. This is about the systemic evil of a classist society that doesn’t want to recognize itself as classist. Is it really so outrageous to call things by their true name?

        • Appalled Parent on 02.15.2013 at 11:56 am

          Wow…you truly are cynical. So very sad for you.

          • Student on 02.16.2013 at 11:20 pm

            Dear Sir/Madam -
            My initial reaction to this article was also “appalling” after I first read it, it is unorthodox to write about the heroes when the heroes don’t seem to have any dialogue in this article other than having a “positive slant” (if that might be a appropriate word.) It came off as a publicity stunt and definitely superficial of some level.

            Please understand, I am grateful for the work that the staff does on a daily basis, and especially impressed with how the snow emergency was handled compared to previous emergencies (Remember Hurricane Sandy…?) Because I was a work-study student in the Facilities & Management office – I interact with the staff on a daily basis. Having people to clean up after and for you is definitely a privilege considering my background of poverty.

            Although I didn’t really approve of Professor Zank’s first comment at first, I know him to be a kind and understanding professor as he is also my adviser. I think people are dismayed at his comment because I understand it is an insult to the students, but I also acknowledge his comment had truth. He is a professor of Religion but he also has many other roles which includes being a human being and having his own views.

            I noticed that you seem to endorse many comments that slander him, but I wanted to step in and say something because I understand that you are disappointed and don’t seem to accept his apology wholeheartedly. I hope you think on my words and don’t hold Professor Zank in contempt.

            Thank you for reading and I apologize for the late comment.

  • Earle on 02.14.2013 at 1:15 pm

    Thank you for doing an excellent job with the snow removal, Facilities Management!

  • illana rosen on 02.14.2013 at 4:00 pm

    Thank you to all who helped us from slipping and sliding all over campus when we returned to work, we appreciate it!!!!

  • bu parent on 02.16.2013 at 10:44 am

    Thanks for a job well done!

  • Appalled Parent on 02.19.2013 at 3:57 pm

    This is in response to “Student” comments on 2/16/13. No one slandered Dr. Zank in their comments on this article. It is Dr. Zank who slanders the student body of BU. His argument about a classist society does not hold water in regards to this article, especially after an employee pointed out they were well compensated for the extra work. I would have accepted his apology if that is what it had actually been. I appreciate your defense of your professor and can only say I am glad for this to be the only time I have to “interact” with him.

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