Despite rain, snow, 100-degree heat, wind and the occasional wild animal, Fernando Mendiola enjoys working outside.
“You are not enclosed into one little area like if you worked in an office,” the city of Salina sanitation worker said.
Mendiola, who’s been on the job four years, said he’s seen just about everything in the trash, including dead animals, although there have been no pet cats or dogs.
“Couches, chairs, those big pianos, you name it, we’ve seen it. Any type of home furniture, washers, dryers, appliances, everything,” he said.
There is some danger
The job does present dangers.
It’s not unusual for a raccoon or opossum to find its way into a Salina trash cart.
Sanitation workers usually find out about the animal hitchhiker after the receptacle is emptied into the back of the garbage truck.
“We have to step back because they will jump out. They are smart enough to jump out,” Mendiola said.
The workers often dodge vehicles.
“We all try to be careful, but it can be a pretty dangerous job sometimes. People just fly by,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t see us.”
Hybrid cars present another problem.
“They are so quiet and we don’t see them until they come around,” he said.
You’re throwing that away?
Occasionally, items will be left by the trash cart that the owner might not want to end up in the Salina landfill.
Mendiola wondered why a lawnmower was sitting by the side of the road next to a trash cart.
“It still had gasoline in it. We weren’t sure. We weren’t going to take it anyway because of the gasoline. We went up to the customer and he was still working on his yard. We just wanted to make sure,” he said.
Mendiola went to the aid of one of his customers who “rolled” out of his house. As he came out of his home, the man missed a step and fell.
“I jumped out of the truck to see if he was all right. He seemed a little startled. I helped him up,” he said.
Mendiola had the customer count to 10 both forward and backward and made sure he wasn’t dizzy before continuing his route.
Weather the toughest part
Inclement weather can be the toughest obstacle to the job.
“Working in the snow is pretty tough. It’s like running in sand,” he said.
Working in the rain isn’t much fun, either.
“It’s got to be done. Somebody has to do it. Plus it’s a job, it’s an opportunity,” Mendiola said.
Mendiola said he would rather work in 110-degree heat than zero-degree weather with snow on the ground.
“You can stay hydrated,” he said. “You just have to drink water and take breaks, as needed, in the shade.”
Wind also presents a problem with dust and chasing down blowing newspapers.
No time for holidays
Sanitation workers are on the job through most holidays.
Thanksgiving, Christmas and News Year’s Day are the only holidays they get off, and if those holidays fall on a weekday, the trash is picked up a day late, finishing up Saturday.
That being said, Mendiola said the job can be fun. He started out as a “runner,” one of two guys at the back running down trash carts.
“You are out in the open air,” he said. “You get good exercise out of it. Working with the other runner, you help each other out but still compete with each other racing to carts.”
When the work is done
What attracted Mendiola to the job in the first place was that when the route is done, so is the day. So, the quicker a crew works, the sooner they get off.
Mendiola learned about the job at age 19 through his cousin, who was hired through Express Employment Professionals.
“The hours he worked were from 7 (a.m.) until he got done,” Mendiola said. “I liked that. As soon as we get done with our route, we can go home. It all depends on the route.”
Moved up to driver
Mendiola moved up the ranks to driver last spring.
As a driver, he has five different routes, one for each day of the week.
“I’ve been treated really good,” he said of the job with the city. “I’ve been offered opportunities and I have taken advantage of them. I like working here. It makes me happy.”
• AGE: 23
• OCCUPATION: Sanitation driver
• TIME ON THE JOB: Four years