Keeping the region running around the clock

May 8th, 2017

By Bridgett Hernandez | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

While northeast Indiana may never be dubbed “The Region that Never Sleeps,” there is plenty of nightlife going on in the region’s biggest employment sectors.

Most people work between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. At 9 p.m., about 12 percent of workers are on the clock but, by 2 a.m., that percentage falls to 3 percent.

Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly is dedicating a two-part series to the men and women who keep the region’s economy running while the rest of us are sleeping, including health care professionals who care for patients at all hours of the day and night and factory workers who keep the wheels of production in motion.

Serving patients

Nurses are no strangers to the night shift, but while most of them are clocking in at a hospital, registered nurse Sarah Martinez, of Decatur, starts her day (or night) at an airport. She is a flight nurse for Lutheran Air I, based at Portland Municipal Airport in Jay County.

Martinez has worked as a nurse for Lutheran for 11 years, and when an opportunity opened up with the hospital’s critical care transport fleet four and a half years ago, she jumped at the opportunity. With seven years of intensive care experience, she was no stranger to high-pressure situations.

“I am very multitask oriented,” she said. “I do better under pressure than if I have a lot of downtime. I am very detail oriented and protocol driven, so this job really fits me to a T.”

Working as a flight nurse means putting in 12-hour shifts each weekend, rotating from day shift to night shift.

A typical shift begins with checking the aircraft, a EC 135 twin-engine civil helicopter, and eating dinner with her crewmates. However, those moments of downtime and comaraderie can change in an instant if they are called to make a flight.

Last year, the base averaged a flight per day. The crew makes two kinds of flights: inter-facility flights (picking up a patient from an outlying hospital and taking him/her to a facility where more services are offered, for example) and scene flights that involve rendezvousing with first responders on the scene of a motor vehicle or farming accident.

Martinez said one of the challenges of working the night shift is balancing her schedule with her other job: raising four young boys between the ages of 4 and 10. Her husband is a firefighter for the Fort Wayne Fire Department, so he also works an abnormal schedule.

This can make balancing work and family life a challenge, but having grandparents who help with childcare allows the couple to tackle their careers.

“Night shift would definitely be impossible without family support,” she said.

Keeping up with demand

It’s 9 p.m. on a Monday, and while most people are getting ready for bed, the night crew at Novae Corp. in Markle is just getting started. The roar of machinery and hip-hop music fills the factory floor, and sparks fly as welders construct utility trailers.

Novae started making trailers in 2001 with products ranging from 2,000-pound, 4-by-8 foot trailers to 44,000-pound, 53-foot flatbed trailers. The company also manufactures custom orders. Its customer base includes landscapers, construction contractors and freight haulers.

“We’ve grown every year since we started in the trailer business, and we’re now the number two company in the U.S. making utility trailers,” said Steve Bermes, president and CEO of Novae.

About 150 people work the night shift at Novae’s Markle facilities, giving the company the capacity to keep up with demand, Bermes said.

“We’re always looking for welders, especially for the night shift, because it’s so important to our ability to serve customers,” he said.

Amanda Neuhaus has been working the night shift at Novae for three years as a powder coater. The process involves coating unfinished trailers with colored powder that results in a durable, paint-like finish.

Neuhaus works in a long, brightly lit room with two giant sets of doors on both ends, which contain giant ovens. The doors on one end of the room open, and they pull a freshly washed, unfinished trailer into the room where they spray it with powder. After it’s coated, they push it through the next set of doors into another oven so that the coating can set. They do this all night.

She and her partner wear jumpsuits and respirators while they work, but they still manage to communicate.

“When you powder for a while, you learn ‘respirator talk’ where you learn to understand what someone is saying even though they sound all muffled,” she laughed.

After working the day shift for several years, it was difficult to adjust to her new schedule at first, but she is now used to the routine. She was a supervisor at her previous job, so she was constantly dealing with other employees. Now, she said, it’s kind of nice to be left alone to do her job.

One of the downsides to working the night shift is that in the summer it can be hard to go home and go to bed. When the weather is nice, she’d much rather take her bike out for a ride.

The other downside? The food, Neuhaus said. She gets burned out on breakfast food, so she sometimes makes nachos or quesadillas when she gets home.

“If I don’t feel like cooking when I get off work and I don’t want breakfast food, that makes it difficult because most places only serve breakfast until 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning,” she said.

Serving the public

It’s 8 p.m. on a Thursday, and the Fort Wayne firefighters at Station 1 on Main Street have been on duty for more than 12 hours. For the men and women who serve on the city’s fire department, there’s no such thing as a typical shift.

Tonight, they’re giving a wide-eyed troop of Tiger Scouts a tour of the fire station. When the weather is nice, it’s common for the station to give tours or have walk-ins, said Deputy Chief Adam O’Connor.

Firefighters work 24-hour shifts followed by two days off. During their shifts, they respond to motor vehicle accidents, gas leaks, medical calls and other emergencies in addition to fires.

Michael Grove is a rookie private with the department nearing his first month of completion. He starts his shift in the early hours of the morning.

As a rookie, he is tasked with a series of jobs that are seen as a rite of passage: cleaning the kitchen, cleaning the bathroom, washing the rigs and, most importantly, making sure there is always a pot of freshly brewed coffee.

In the evenings, the firefighters take turns cooking dinner.

“We all rotate, and we all cook whatever we want so, if it’s my day to cook, I go to the grocery store, buy whatever I want to cook, bring it in and everyone pitches in $10,” said Lieutenant Kasie Platt, who has been with the Fort Wayne Fire Department for 13 years.

If they don’t get any calls, they linger over dinner for an hour or an hour and a half. Firefighters spend a third of their lives at the station, so there’s a real sense of comaraderie, he said.

Before bed, Platt might run on the treadmill and watch country music videos to decompress. But when it comes time for lights out, firefighters fall into the same bad technology habits as the rest of us – scrolling through their phones in bed.

“The next thing I know, it’s 11 o’clock at night, and I haven’t gone to bed yet,” he said. “Any adult who has a phone is guilty of it.”

When firefighters are called to a scene in the middle of the night, they have to be ready to respond in a matter of minutes.

“It’s comparable to being an Olympic sprinter,” Grove said. “One minute your heart is at 46-48 beats when you’re sleeping. The next minute those tones go off, and it’s like someone fired that starting gun, and your heart goes from 46 beat to 150 beats that fast. It’s like running a 100-yard dash. The tones go off, and you’re throwing the covers back, going down the pole.”

Night-time calls require a heightened sense of awareness, he said. They’re more likely to be responding to more serious motor vehicle accidents, bar fights and drug overdoses. If it’s a structure fire, it’s more likely that it will be more heavily engulfed and that more victims will be involved because most people are home at night.

“In the daylight, it’s a little bit easier to see exactly what’s going on,” Grove said. “In the evening, in some of the places you go into, it’s definitely different.”

The night-shift series will continue next week, so check back for stories about the businesses that support the night shift.

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