Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
Employee Spotlight
JoAn Crews, a 22-year Caltrans veteran, is the contract manager for the Special Crews Region on Bandini Avenue in Commerce.

Employee Spotlight on JoAn Crews - A Special Person in Special Crews

Issue Date: 09/2009

(Editor’s note: Micki Gray, maintenance supervisor, District 7 Special Crews, nominated JoAn Crews to be featured as an Inside Seven Employee Spotlight. Micki Gray contributed this article for Inside Seven. Edited by Maria Raptis, staff writer.)

Like many Caltrans field personnel, JoAn Crews never knows what her workday will hold. Years of safety training has taught her to keep a hard hat and safety vest at arms reach because at any given moment, she may be called to work outside of the office.

Since 2001, Crews has been the contract manager for the Special Crews Region on Bandini Avenue in Commerce. However, she is still an active part of safety training for this special crew. She is responsible to write and manage contractual agreements between Caltrans and its service contractors that include rental equipment, elevator service inspections, water wells regulated by the Water Control Board, trash collection, electrical, roofing, medical testing, and Directors Orders for emergency contracts.

The path that Crews has paved during her 22 year career in the District 7 Maintenance Division has taken many twists and turns, like the Angeles Crest Highway (State Route 2) where she spent years working in both roadway and landscape maintenance from the Altadena maintenance yard. She has also worked for the Maintenance south region, the north region tree crew in San Fernando and as a landscape supervisor.

The Maintenance Division’s Special Crews Region is responsible for freeway signage, lighting and electrical, striping and markings, and bridge maintenance. Usually, if work does not fall into the category of roadwork or maintenance, then it’s part of Special Crews. District 7 is responsible for a vast geographical area of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, and has four maintenance divisions – north, east, south, and west – to provide its many services. But the Special Crew team is the largest, as they work district-wide and are responsible for all other “special” tasks and functions. Some of their duties include making and installing signs, freeway striping and raised pavement marker installation and repair, electrical, lighting, culvert inspections, storm drain cleaning, bridge painting and repair and graffiti removal.

Crews says that she sometimes thinks she has seen it all and nothing new can happen in a day that she hasn’t already experienced in her state service career. But, she likes to be prepared anyway.

In what seems to always be the middle of the night and during the most inclement weather – snow, rain, wind and fire storms – JoAn Crews has worked the steep I-5 Grapevine and the bends of SR-2 to help close a freeway and set up detours following an emergency incident. Or she has driven across the entire region to help an injured staff member. In fact, she has done both difficult tasks on occasion within one day.

“The JoAn Crews that I know is always ready and willing to help others. She uses her training to help during any unusual events, such as when a district employee has incurred injury. Joan will go to help any employee that needs the support to recover from the experience. During major national emergencies, JoAn has volunteered to provide aid to fellow Americans,” said Alan Kato, maintenance manager, District 7 Special Crews Region. “She took personal time to “vacation” in Mississippi to help victims of flood and water damaged homes caused by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and again to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, following the flood of June, 2008, to help with home repairs and help people start mending their lives.”

In keeping with her commitment to safety and emergency response, Crews is the Special Crews point person for the Caltrans Emergency Operation Center (EOC), a joint cooperative operation between local, state and federal agencies in the event of extraordinary disasters such as earthquake, floods, storms, fires and terrorism. Crews participated in the statewide mock earthquake drill in 2008 as part of a coordinated effort by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Her Caltrans career began in 1987, about the same time that her father, Archie Heath, was winding down his to head towards retirement. Heath began working with Caltrans in 1964 in Glendora as part of the Highway 39 mountain road crew and retired as a supervisor in 1988 from Silverlake Maintenance yard.

“With two sons to raise, I often was the first to volunteer for the New Year’s Day Rose Parade to assist with freeway lane and ramp closures. My family understood me being absent from holidays and functions, as my father had done the same for many years. That’s the way I grew up,” says Crews.

Crews is eager to discuss her love for landscape maintenance, especially chemical application to mix and apply along roadside vegetation for weed abatement. She has numerous specialized training licenses and certifications that include first aid certification, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training and Automated Electronic Defibrillator device (AED) training. She is also a certified chemical applicator, pesticide safety trainer, equipment operator (including tractor-trailers and snowplows!), a respirator fit test trainer (a safety inspector for proper fit of facial respirators) and a facility inspector who checks safety compliance in the district’s 25 field offices.

Crews is also trained in critical incident stress management, (commonly known as a “diffuser”), a sort of a grief counselor or coach, who helps people work through emotional stress caused by any kind of trauma or incident. She is certified to travel throughout the district, and even statewide, to meet face-to-face with Caltrans employees who need to talk about a serious illness, injury, accident or fatality.

The job doesn’t require Crews to be so many things to so many people, she just wants to help others stay safe on the job.

“I like to know that when our crews are out working on and near the freeways, that they are aware of all the safety issues. I want to make sure that they are safe and if there is anything I can do to help them get there and back, I’m going to do just that,” said Crews.

At home, Crews enjoys being outdoors loves swimming, gardening and mowing the lawn – and spraying against garden pests. She and her husband, Raymond, celebrate their biggest joy as grandparents to two boys. Her contributions to her work and the community-at-large hopefully will continue and Caltrans District 7 is fortunate to have her expertise and her commitment to others and to safety.

“She is generous and has donated many personal vacation hours to co-workers for catastrophic leave requests. She is a good person to have around and serves as a role model for many employees,” said Kato.

JoAn Crews is in her comfort zone when she is teaching others.  Her favorite topics concern some element of roadway maintenance and safety or chemical application.  Today’s training topic, however, is on cardiopulmonary resuscitation.