Students Slip, Slide On Slick Sidewalks

Treacherous pathways send at least one to the emergency room

After a wintry mix of snow, slush and rain froze over on the night of Valentine’s Day, Harvard students faced the dangerous challenge of walking to and from class on roads and sidewalks covered in ice.

Harvard’s Facilities Maintenance Organization (FMO) was prepared for the dangers the weather would bring—stockpiling salt, sand, and ice-melt, as well as activating all on-hand personnel and hiring emergency contract workers from outside its ranks.

According to Yard Operations Associate Director of Residential Operations Zachary M. Gingo ’98, 65 people worked for a total of 30 hours to make the walkways navigable after the remnants of a stormy Valentine’s Day solidified.

“After the ice froze over and we weren’t able to use plows, people were literally out there with pickaxes,” said Gingo. In the end, he said, 40 tons of salt, sand and ice-melt were used to combat the conditions—more than FMO has ever used for one incident before.

According to Gingo, there were two specific problems that made the conditions especially difficult to deal with. First, the dramatic temperature drop on Wednesday evening—temperatures fell 25 degrees within two hours—caused the slush and rainwater to freeze solidly over the ground, creating a thick sheet of ice and rendering snowplows virtually useless. Second, the footsteps of pedestrians in high-trafficked areas compressed the mix into an even more impenetrable sheath.

However, even with the efforts of FMO and businesses around Harvard Square, many icy patches were left in paths of students.

Shira R. Brettman ’07 was one of many Harvard students to have suffered embarrassment and injury as a result of the sidewalks.

Brettman said that she slipped and fell on the intersection of Bow Street and Mt. Auburn Street while carrying a bottle of Snapple.

When she fell, it shattered and left a shard of glass lodged in her hand.

“You can still see broken glass and blood on the sidewalk,” said Brettman. After calling 911, Brettman was rushed to the Mt. Auburn Hospital emergency room where she received ten stitches. She is scheduled for surgery today for nerve and tendon repair. “I’m really mad, but I’m also really clumsy, so I guess I have no one to blame but myself,” said Brettman, who said she was informed by doctors that she could suffer permanent damage to her hand.

Raffi Hovagimian, owner of Café Pamplona—located on Bow Street, near where Brettman fell—said that store owners are worried about their customers and do their best to clear the sidewalks in front of their businesses. However, he said, it is difficult because most establishments do not have the tools to deal with the drastic conditions they faced last week.

“It’s a rare situation with both the snow and the rain, and it’s tough on businesses because they don’t have the right tools,” Hovagimian said. “It froze so fast, and you can’t find salt to put down on the ice because all the stores are out.”