Editor’s Note: This is the first in an occasional Post-Record series, “Our Essential Workers,” which will highlight East Clark County residents who are working on the front lines — in health care, as first responders, at the grocery stores, for essential city services, in transportation, etc. — to help make all of our lives safer and more secure during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have a suggestion for a person we should feature in this series, please email Managing Editor Kelly Moyer at firstname.lastname@example.org and type “Essential Workers” in the subject line.
Lately, there haven’t been enough hours in the day for Jesse Kasziewicz to accomplish everything on his to-do list.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Kasziewicz, lead maintenance worker for the Washougal’s parks and facilities department, has been doing the work of two or three people.
“My job has changed quite a bit,” he said. “Usually we have at least three seasonal (workers) this time of year. Now we’re down to one because of the virus; it wasn’t safe to keep them all here. We’re trying to keep all of the parks maintained, and we’re also doing a lot of sanitizing. Every morning when the stores open, we get cleaning supplies and sanitizer.”
Kasziewicz said he has noticed an uptick in graffiti, something that challenges his already packed schedule.
“With schools closed, vandalism has gone crazy. Every day we’re getting graffiti somewhere. I clean it up, which takes time away from my daily routine,” he said. “All of this is taking a big toll on my ability to complete projects. It’s been hard to keep up with the parks with all of the extra work I’ve been doing. Our department is responsible for ordering and distributing supplies for the city, so I spent a lot of time last week shopping for cleaning items and other things, and I didn’t actually spend much time in the parks division.”
Kasziewicz is doing his best to adapt by “thinking of ways that (the city) can keep a good maintenance program going with a smaller staff.”
“I think we’ll focus most of our attention on our highest populated parks, the popular parks,” he said. “We may not visit some of the other parks for a while, so the grass will get taller before we get to them. We won’t irrigate anything this year, and we’ll struggle to pull weeds out of the flower beds landscape areas because that’s time consuming. That will probably be the biggest hit. Mostly I’m trying to make sure the ballfields look good for when Little League starts back up.
“I have to think about (the long-term),” he continued. “In the worst-case scenario, what can we cut out that that will have the least impact? We can’t keep up the maintenance that we had last year. We had an awesome crew last year; a big crew. There will have to be cuts in certain areas. It’s going to be nice (this) week, and people will be outside, so we’ll come up with ways to still make the parks look good. Lots of parks take a day or two to mow. Maybe we won’t mow the whole park. Mowing the sides next to where the trails are will be the best bet.”
Kasziewicz said he and his co-workers are taking as many precautions as they can when they’re working.
“My manager tells us to go home immediately if we’re feeling sick,” he said. “We have wipes and gloves and other cleaning supplies. Every one of us is assigned a vehicle, and no one else uses it, and we wipe them down at the end of our shifts so they’re safe. We have sanitizer in the break room. It’s not that we can’t work together, but we keep our distance to make sure that if one of us has (the virus), it won’t spread.”
Still, Kasziewicz is still concerned that he could become infected with the coronavirus that has killed at least 15 people in Clark County over the past two months.
“Especially when we go to stores in the morning to get cleaning supplies,” he said. “It’s nerve-wracking to go shopping with everything going on. When we do trash clean-up, that can be concerning as well. I don’t know what’s in the garbage cans, and bottles can break and leak over you, and you’re like, ‘What is that?’ I have been worried. Usually, when I go home, I take my clothes off and put them in the washer right away and go take a shower so that I don’t spread anything to my family.”
Kasziewicz has worked for the city since 2002. He started out as a seasonal worker in the parks and facilities department before taking a full-time position in 2006. The longtime Washougal resident then took a job in the streets and storms department before shifting to his current role about three years ago.
“Jesse is deeply rooted in the community, having grown up here and currently raising his family in Washougal,” said Will Noonan, the city of Washougal’s general services operations manager. “Jesse has a very strong commitment to teamwork. During these difficult times, he is willing to go wherever needed in the city to assist where necessary to get the job done. He leads by example, and remains very flexible to performing whichever tasks need to be taken care of.”
Kasziewicz, who has a 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son with his wife, Sara, enjoys the fact that he has “a variety of things to do every day.”
“I like this type of work,” he said. “(I particularly enjoy) being able to be outside and setting up new playgrounds for kids. It’s an enjoyable job. Day to day, the tasks are never the same. Something new always comes up.”
Lately, more so than ever.