‘Snow in July’

Published 10:15 pm Thursday, July 20, 2017

Most folks in Suffolk are adjusting to the sweltering heat with short sleeves and sunglasses. But some folks are still heading to work with winter coats and gloves.

Warm clothing is essential for those who work on the docks at Suffolk Cold Storage and the city’s other cold storage facilities.

When they’re in the 115,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse in Northgate Commerce Park, workers experience temperatures ranging from a brisk 48 degrees all the way to a downright chilly 10 degrees below zero.

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“If you’re too hot outside, come to Suffolk Cold Storage,” quips John Burton, who handles quality assurance and control for the company.

The facility is connected to the Suffolk offices and processing plant for Wanchese Fish Company, and both are owned by Cooke Seafood USA. Storage rooms are temperature-controlled according to requirements for imported and exported goods from customers across the country and abroad.

After product is unloaded and processed at the truck loading dock, each pallet is taken to one of more than 16,000 pallet positions across different rooms. Warmer rooms may accommodate products like peanuts and coffee, while colder rooms allow for poultry, pork and seafood.

Workers move products to pallet racks in the freezer, where temperatures can be at or below zero. Chris Jefferson comes prepared for each work day — even in the hottest part of summer — with gloves, facemask, four layers on his torso and two pairs of socks inside insulated boots.

“You get real cold in there,” Jefferson says.

Workers spend up to an hour in the freezer at a time before taking breaks to warm up. The procedure for safety is simply to dress properly and pay attention to your body.

“When your fingers start tingling, it’s time to come out,” says dock lead Michael Barner.

Barner has been with Suffolk Cold Storage since 2014 and has worked in cold storage for about 20 years, going back to his time in the Army. He says he’s grown accustomed to the cold over the years.

“I like what I do,” he says. “There’s nothing hard about it. You just pay attention to detail.”

Some of the workers explained that the loading dock is more hospitable during the summer. Furthermore, they relish going from the cold to the warm summer evenings at the end of the day.

“Once I get outside, the heat feels good to me, after being in the freezer so long,” Jefferson says.

But the job is not for everyone.

“Some people just can’t take it,” Burton says. “It takes a special type of person.”

As he shows a visitor around the facility, frost can be seen falling from ceiling onto the freezer floor because of the humidity.

“That’s always interesting,” he says. “It’s snow in July.”