Keeping on trucking amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

IROQUOIS – The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been tumultuous for everyone and thrust many people delivering essential services into heroic positions.

Among the everyday heroes are the truck drivers who have continued to deliver goods throughout these uncertain times.

Iroquois-based KBD Transportation’s CEO Bruce Mullin tells The Leader, “Our drivers have just been unreal in a positive way throughout this whole thing. They have all risen to the challenge even though they are all concerned about the virus and the possibility of bringing it home to their loved ones.”

KBD which runs 42 trucks, a maintenance shop of four and an office staff of 11, has been in operation since 1994.

Sixty per cent of KBD’s business is cross-border, so when the pandemic hit, they were very uncertain about how they and their customers would continue.

“We are lucky at KBD to be declared an essential service and to have the opportunity to continue to work, and play a positive role during this pandemic,” said Pam Mullin, KBD advisor for operations and admin. “Initially, when the pandemic hit, it was a bit of mayhem. We didn’t know what was going to happen at the border.”

While KBD had to make significant adaptations to how they do business, they have been able to keep all of their employees employed. “We have been lucky to keep operating,” said Bruce. “I feel really bad for the people who cannot work and are losing money.”

Having the general public become aware of and acknowledge the importance of truck drivers is something that Bruce says is “long overdue.”

He acknowledges that truck drivers’ work is not easy at any time. “It’s long overdue that truck drivers get the credit they deserve for the job they do,” said Bruce.

“I have been thanked personally three times; once in Michigan, once in Pennsylvania and once in Ontario, for working and delivering products,” said KBD driver Rick Broadbent. “I have never had that happen before.”

Driver Scott MacCallum said that he has seen both positive and negative changes.

“Finding a washroom to use can be quite difficult,” said MacCallum. “Most shippers and receivers have closed their washroom facilities to anyone other than their own employees.”

“Bathroom breaks are more planned than before,” said Broadbent.

Both drivers spoke about the difficulties involved with finding food. “There is no spontaneous shopping for groceries,” said Broadbent, because of the long line ups and also because he does not want to be in that much contact with the masses.

“I am concerned that many Americans are not taking enough precautions to avoid transmission of the virus,” said MacCallum. “The last thing I want to do is to bring this virus home to my family.”

“There is no stopping at restaurants for a bite as most are drive thru only,” said Broadbent, who is glad for those that allow truckers to walk up to the drive thru window. “Fuelling, showers and truckstops have been as quick as possible.”

“By far the biggest change is crossing the border both ways” said Broadbent. “Six months ago, if someone had told me that I would be wearing a mask and gloves, I would have laughed, and yet here we are.”

While there have been many changes and struggles from the driver’s perspective, the drivers both noted the same positive aspect.

“The reduction in traffic on the highway system is almost hard to imagine,” said MacCallum. “I can drive through any major city in North America during rush hour with no traffic congestion. The highways seem much safer.”

“Traffic is so minimal that there are almost no slowdowns or backups,” said Broadbent.

For those working in the office at KBD, half have shifted to work from home.

“We had a remote employee already located in Alberta so were somewhat familiar with how to set up a home worker,” explained Pam. “We provided VPN access to desktops and discovered Google Hangouts, which enabled our dispatch team to communicate throughout the day. We also started using Google Docs and Sheets, allowing real-time and ongoing updates between dispatchers so they could keep abreast of all the shared information. It was a new way of operating and a learning curve for sure, but now that everything is in place, I think we’re the better for it.”

Stephanie Smith, KBD transportation specialist, said that for her the transition to working from home has been pretty seamless. “KBD made sure that I had the necessary tools before leaving the office to stay connected efficiently.”

“Contact with the drivers remains the same for me other than I don’t get to see their actual faces when they pop in the office to drop off their paperwork,” said Smith, adding that a bonus has been not needing to fill up her gas tank as often. “Having the Google Hangout tool is great as it still allows me to see my co-workers which I find helps with the solitude of being at home.”

“I think the biggest fear I had in the beginning was that my job would not be able to be done as efficiently at home as it was being done in the office,” said Steacy Skakum, dispatch planner/procurement.

“In transportation, communication is huge and the unknown of how we are going to be able to do this was stressful. Now that we have settled in and six weeks have passed, we seem to be doing what it takes to keep our drivers moving up and down the road. Some days are more stressful than others but overall, working from home has been working out well.”

“During this time it is more important than ever that drivers feel appreciated and valued as they are crossing the borders and putting themselves in harm’s way when most of North America is at home,” said Skakum.

For those still working from the Iroquois office they too have had to make changes to cleaning and sanitizing practices. Hand sanitizer is present at every turn.

“Keeping a safe distance for discussions was weird at first but now it’s becoming more ingrained,” said those who are still working at the Iroquois office. “I think socially, we’re lucky. We get to continue to interact with co-workers and stakeholders (from a distance) every day,” said Pam.

“Our staff members have accepted the changes as they’ve happened and adjusted,” added Pam.

“The employees are the front line workers. They are the heroes at KBD,” concluded Bruce.

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