PLATTSBURGH — City Police Chief Desmond Racicot likes to refer to the city’s crew of crossing guards as heroes, but the modest bunch will have none of it.
“I am ex-military, and to me, the guys in the military are heroes. I’m just doing my job,” a humble Maurice Daniels said recently.
Daniels, 50, has been a city crossing guard for 12 years. He mans the busy intersection of Broad and Oak streets in front of Stafford Middle School twice a day, from 7 to 9 a.m. and from 2 to 4 p.m.
“This place can be crazy in the morning and even crazier in the afternoon when people are coming to get their kids,” Daniels said.
The main duty of a crossing guard is simple: Don’t let anyone get run over by a vehicle.
But achieving that goal can be a lot harder than you would think.
Distracted motorists, daydreaming pedestrians and kids who just don’t listen sometimes all present difficult challenges for crossing guards.
“I’m about the size of a small planet, but as big as I am, there are still people who say they didn’t see me,” the robust Daniels said.
“And I’ve got a bright yellow vest on, and I’m holding up a big red stop sign.”
In front of the middle school, there are four crossing points, but only one Daniels. When crowds of students queue up on the sidewalk waiting to cross, Daniels must make sure he can get traffic to stop at all four intersections.
He usually will walk out into the crosswalk at the western end of the intersection and from there he can hold up east-west traffic on Broad Street pretty securely. But traffic coming onto and off of Oak Street can be tricky.
“This intersection really should have four crossing guards, but the city isn’t going to do that,” Daniels said.
“So I have to do my best to handle all these crossing areas.”
The hardest part of handling that intersection is to get westbound motorists on Broad to stop before they get to the western crosswalk.
“If I don’t almost get hit about five times a day, then my day is not complete,” Daniels said.
NOT PAYING ATTENTION
Dealing with vehicles traveling on Broad Street is bad enough, but perhaps the most troublesome spot is the exit from the school itself.
“Parents just don’t pay attention sometimes,” Daniels said.
“When I am in the street stopping traffic, sometimes they think it’s OK for them to pull out, but no, it’s not.”
The kids, for the most part, are quite dutiful.
Daniels has them line up behind the yellow line on the sidewalk before going to stop traffic.
“I always tell them to stay here while I walk out, but they don’t listen and I get to the middle of the street and turn around and I run into them because they are right behind me,” he said.
After that happens a few times, Daniels gets a little sterner with his instructions.
“Stay put,” he yells with a serious face and a finger point. The kids get the message and hold their place until Daniels gives an assuring, “OK, come on,” with a quick wave.
But not all kids get it.
On a recent afternoon, a college-age girl was walking up to the crosswalk grossly engaged in conversation on her cell phone. If Daniels had not held out his hand to stop her, the woman would have undoubtedly walked right into speeding traffic.
“See, she wasn’t even paying attention,” Daniels said.
Another factor the crossing guards have to deal with is Mother Nature.
They are called to duty when it is snowing, raining or blazing hot out.
A native of the Bronx, Daniels said the cold doesn’t bother him.
“I dress warm, but not too much, and I don’t even feel it,” he said.
“You just get used to it, and it’s only two hours at a time.”
‘BE ON YOUR TOES’
Bill Gordon, like Daniels, is a veteran of the crossing wars.
For 20 years, he has been manning various posts in the city. Nowadays, he handles the Oak and Stetson street intersection in front of Oak Street Elementary School.
“It’s wild out here,” Gordon, 76, said.
“Sometimes you don’t know if a car is going to stop or not, and whether the cars behind them will just follow them or (if they will) stop,” Gordon said.
Gordon said he gets used to the chaos and can handle the four- to five-minute rush when school gets out at 2:20 p.m.
“You have to be on your toes,” he said.
MANDATED BY STATE
For their service, crossing guards do not get rich.
They start out earning $8.50 per hour and can work their way up to a maximum of $10 per hour. The only benefits they get are Social Security, and they can choose to join the New York state retirement system as part-timers if they wish.
The city had a high of 19 crossing guards a decade ago, but now there are only seven.
The state mandates them for city schools, but requires the city to pay for them and not the school district.
A COMMUNITY SERVICE
Gordon says he doesn’t do it for the money.
“It’s a community service for me,” he said.
“Just something I can do to help.”
Daniels said he has had plenty of opportunities to get other jobs, but they would interfere with his crossing-guard schedule.
“I really don’t want to give this job up because I love it so much,” he said.
Racicot certainly hopes Daniels, Gordon and the rest of the crossing guards aren’t going anywhere soon.
“When one of them is out sick and we have to put an officer on crossing-guard duty, it’s the worst duty on the job and nobody wants to do it,” Racicot said.
“When I’m out sick, the next day, the police will be like begging me,” he said.
“Please don’t ever get sick again.”
Email Joe LoTemplio:email@example.com