If anyone has the keys to the city of Westminster, it might be Larry Bloom, the superintendent of the Street Department.
After 32 years through various roles with the city, Bloom closed the door to the maintenance shop on Railroad Avenue Friday, March 29.
“My first day of retirement is April 1. So hopefully it's not a joke,” he said.
But it won’t last too long. Thursday April 4 — the day of the first home Baltimore Orioles game of the season, to his chagrin — he will start a role with the county as a project manager for the Bureau of Utilities, working with water and wastewater.
The Westminster High School graduate started out cleaning city hall for Public Works in 1983. He went into the United States Air Force in 1986. After serving four years, he returned to Westminster and began working at the wastewater treatment plant in 1990. He became the superintendent of the Street Department in 1998.
“One facet of this job, which my supervisors used to like to tell everybody is this position, or I should say, this department, if it doesn't fit in any other department, that's who gets to do it,” he said.
The department’s work keeps the wheels of the city turning.
Bulk trash, maintenance of every county vehicle besides the police patrol cars, street sweeping, snow plowing, grass mowing, and a lot of behind-the-scenes work for special events within the city limits all fall under its domain.
There’s a lot of thinking on the fly and problem-solving, Bloom said.
The snow plows have routes, but if an ambulance needs to get to the scene of an injury or vital personnel need to get to the hospital or the wastewater plant, they’ll try to change gears.
Another example is a big event that may take weeks of planning.
The day of something like the annual Celtic Canter, the Street Department will shut down the roads and help to provide vendors with chairs, table and generators, setting up band equipment, setting up the city’s booths, and letting vendors in an out of the area to load their items.
“And then, of course, when everybody leaves, then we’ve got try to get it all cleaned up so that the street can be reopened,” Bloom said.
The job for those in public works is 24/7, and crews go out to disasters alongside other first-responders. But part of the job, Bloom said, is working behind the scenes where the only time the public notices what you do is when something goes wrong.
“That’s all part of the job, [and] you know it going in, but it’s just tough when you get beat down all the time. And you just have to finally say, ‘We gotta take pride in what we do.’”
Seasonally, Bloom has had to stay several steps ahead of most people. Driving a plow during a January snowstorm, you might find him thinking about the opening of the city parks and gardens. And between Oct. 15 and April 15, they need to be prepared to drop everything and deal with snow.
Bloom said some of the most satisfying parts of the job can be getting the streets opened after plowing or pulling off a large downtown event.
“But for me, I feel like I always can do better,” he said.
With a big event, on the surface, it looks like it went smoothly as it could. But behind the scenes, you know, there's always something that comes up. But if we can make it so that nobody notices, that’s the job. That's when we do our high fives.”
It’s a job that requires a lot of versatility. Things can’t shut down if one person isn’t in the shop, so every member of the team has to be able to do a little bit of everything.
And Bloom made sure to be willing to do all of it, right down to cleaning the bathrooms.
“If you’ve got work for 25 people, but you only have 19 people, it has to get done. So you do it,” he said. “I've done everything here that I've ever asked anybody else to do.”
If he has his choice, he likes mowing.
“That's where I can think,” he said. “I can get away from the phone and then I can sit there and think about what's tomorrow’s project, or next week's project or, or I can think about what I need to get put into the budget for the following year.”
Because he’s done their jobs before, it helps him advocate for his people when others might misunderstand their jobs or overlook them.
“I've tried for many years to try to get that word out ... that we are out there on the front lines, just like everybody else,” he said. “And you know, at the same time, we're behind the scenes every time you turn on the water spigot.