Hot jobs: Workers brave the heat

July 10, 2012 By Käri Knutson

Photo:Patty Radie

Working in extremely hot conditions with temperatures close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, Patty Radle, gardener, waters plants near Backcock Hall.

Photo: Bryce Richter

There’s hot and then there’s H-O-T.

For some, the recent heat wave had people scrambling for the comforts of air conditioning. But for many workers on campus, beating the heat is all in a day’s work.

Life at UW doesn’t stop just because it hits 100 degrees.

On a recent 98-degree day, a group of prospective students from Chicago came to tour campus. Tour guide and UW student Tanya Syal, 20, led them on an abbreviated tour. Normally, a tour ends up being about two miles of walking. This time, it was shorted to less than a mile.

“You could tell they were ready to get out of the heat,” says Syal who handed out bottles of water to her group.

Bascom Hill is a pretty good workout under any conditions, but when it hovers around 100 degrees, it’s a sweatier challenge. Still, Syal smiles through it all.

“I like to joke that at least it isn’t the middle of winter and there’s a foot of snow,” Syal says. “You have to keep it light.”

She realizes it’s her job to show tour groups as much of campus as possible. Most groups are from out of town and can’t reschedule.

“This is the best job even when it’s hot or cold,” Syal says. “You know you’re helping people make one of their biggest decisions. And you get to talk about the university you love.”

As a service truck driver, Martin Regan is always on the go whether there’s a snowstorm or heat wave. His strategy for either is the same.

“You just get in and out as soon as you can,” Regan said as he ran quickly from his truck to Chamberlain Hall.

Photo: Martin Regan

Martin Regan, service driver, dashes from building to building making deliveries all over the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus.

Photo: Bryce Richter

He delivers as well as picks up packages. The pace is too fast to slow down and complain about weather.

“It’s not too bad either way,” Regan says. “I like it.”

Campus gardener Patty Radle doesn’t worry about her own comfort during a hot streak. Her attention turns to keeping things green on campus.

“I spend most of my time watering,” Radle says. “All you can do is water, water, water on days like this.”

The rule for herself is the same with Radle drinking about a half gallon of water a day.

“I stay away from air conditioning,” Radle says. “Your body just has to adjust again.”

She prefers winter when days are spent planting. Either way, she braves the elements.

“You just have to psyche yourself up the best you can,” Radle says.

As hot as it felt outside, that was nothing compared to inside the Botany Greenhouse at Birge Hall along University Avenue where the temperature topped 107 degrees. Walking into the greenhouse is like walking into an oven of humidity.

It’s not really about human comfort. It’s about what’s best for the more than 8,000 square feet of more than 1,000 species comprising distinct aquatic, desert and tropical communities.

Photo: Cara Streekstra

Cara Streekstra, horticulturalist, waters plants in the Birge Hall greenhouse. On a 100-degree day, the heat and humidity level inside the greenhouse were even higher than those outside.

Photo: Bryce Richter

“Some of the plants find the heat more of a challenge,” says horticulturalist Cara Streekstra. “Some thrive in the hot, humid weather.”

They try to schedule watering before 11 a.m. on hot days to get a bit of a reprieve from the heat. Also, some jobs can be done in an adjoining room where it reached a comparatively polar 76 degrees.

“The higher the temperatures, the higher the evaporation,” says horticulturalist Jim Adams. “More watering means more work.”

The lack of rainfall has also meant more work outside.

“It keeps us on our toes,” Adams says. “We’re never bored.”

In the winter, the greenhouse can be more of a respite.

“It’s like a cool summer day in the winter,” Adams says. “It’s the place to be.”

Not so much on a hot summer day where a group of students intending to take a tour quickly turned back.

If you can’t stand the heat, you best get out of the greenhouse.

“This is our job,” Streekstra says. “You know you have to do it. We get to do for our job what others do for a hobby. Dealing with the heat is just one of the compromises.”