MESA, Ariz. — Mesa garbage truck operator, Rick Gregory, is in a new line of work he likes to call "trial by fire."
Gregory said he's been caught in two garbage truck fires in his five months on the job.
It's a growing problem in the area and the City of Mesa is calling on its residents to help put a stop to it. A series of recent truck fires is putting both truck operators and neighbors at risk. However, it's an issue, the city said, has an easy fix.
At least three garbage trucks have gone up in flames in Mesa in recent weeks, the city's Mariano Reyes said.
“It does cause a major safety hazard because we obviously want to keep our staff safe, our residents safe,” Reyes said.
One fire, Gregory said, started on the loop 202 SanTan and another in a mobile home park. Gregory got out safely both times and no one else was hurt, but he's concerned about the rise in recent incidents.
The city said the solution to stopping these fires is simple—separate trash and throw it away properly. If hazardous materials are tossed in with the rest of the trash, it can make a dangerous combination.
“They come into contact with other materials that have been placed in the trash or recycle containers, and they can either combust or create a fire,” Reyes said.
If the hazardous materials would be disposed of properly at Mesa's Household Hazardous Materials Facility, the city said it would prevent trucks from going up in flames. Items like paint, propane gas tanks, batteries and more can all be dropped off at the facility if you live in Mesa.
“When the material gets in, we evaluate it and we try to determine what can be reused," said Mike Baez, an environmental specialist at Mesa's facility.
The facility weighs and tracks material like pesticides, herbicides and batteries that are dropped off.
“Typically monthly, we’ll get about 50,000 pounds," Baez said. "Of that, we’re sending about 35 to 45 percent into our reuse program where residents can grab at their leisure.”
Items like TVs and appliances are not weighed, but he said they can end up in local reuse programs and in Mesa's swap shop too.
There's an easy drive thru, drop off process for the hazardous materials. The city asks anyone who comes through to stay in their vehicles. Materials should be in the trunk or truck bed. Mesa's facility is open Wednesday through Saturday. Other cities in the Valley have similar programs.
The increase in these kinds of fires have put drivers like Gregory in harm's way. It also slows them down while they work to keep Mesa clean. Reyes said there are protocols if a driver smells smoke coming from the back of the truck.
“If he can pull off to a safe area whether it’s a parking lot area, then that’s what he would do, he would then notified our foreman, fire crews, hazmat crews called out," Reyes said.
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