It’s five o’clock in the evening and Mark Rasevic is on high alert. His snowplow operators wait for the signal: Snow is imminent.
Truck gas tanks are topped off, salt and chemical inventories are checked and employees working through the night have two-days’ worth of food on hand. Bethesda-based Rasevic Snow Services Inc. is ready for the second snowfall of the season.
Three to seven inches of snow and ice are expected to accumulate in the Washington area by early this morning, according to the National Weather Service.
While most commuters are still asleep, Mr. Rasevic’s snow and ice specialists descend upon the nation’s capital. Their mission is to plow, haul and melt the wintry mix at office parks, shopping centers, clinics, factories and residential neighborhoods throughout the D.C. area.
Mr. Rasevic, 36, is not just any snowplow guy: He’s a certified snow professional.
“It helps to distinguish one in the industry,” Mr. Rasevic said of the credential, which he attained after passing a six-hour exam administered by the Snow and Ice Management Association.
The Erie, Pa., trade group, formed in 1996 to help combat the snow-removal industry’s negative image, uses the certification to ensure professionalism, Executive Director Tammy Higham said.
“The industry has kind of always had this bad stigma of being an uneducated industry,” Ms. Higham said. The test covers the mechanics of snow and ice removal as well as the entrepreneurial aspects of law, contracts and business. There are fewer than 100 certified snow professionals in the country, she estimated.
“They’re very passionate about their work, they’re very responsible and they know the products that they’re working with,” said Ms. Higham.
Mr. Rasevic likens snow professionals to police officers and firefighters.
“We’re just like other first responders except that our state of operational readiness is not maintained by tax dollars,” he said. “When there’s a blizzard, you see all sorts of people getting off the Beltway coming from God knows where” with plows slapped onto their trucks.
That’s why Mr. Rasevic settles his contracts well before wintry weather begins. He charges per application, not by the hour. Hourly rates don’t give contractors an incentive to be efficient, nor do they help clients plan their budgets, he pointed out.
“If one’s experienced in snow removal, you should be able to provide a price on a per-push basis” said Mr. Rasevic, whose employees visit client sites every two to four inches of accumulation to apply salt and other chemicals. “Once it starts snowing, we go out and do our work, and after it’s done, we go back every morning and evening as long as the temperature is below freezing until there is 100 percent dry pavement.”
For nearly a decade, Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc. has employed Rasevic Snow Services to clear the areas surrounding the roughly 20 properties it leases to life-science companies.
“I sign the contract for snow removal when it’s 100 degrees outside in the middle of summer,” said Larry Diamond, senior vice president of the company’s Mid-Atlantic region. “Our facilities are mission-critical to our tenants and we never shut down one of our properties because of snow.”
Many property managers don’t realize what it takes to maintain a state of readiness, said Mr. Rasevic, who majored in biology and philosophy at Duke University and pursued a graduate degree in philosophy at Catholic University.
“A lot of them view it as a necessary evil,” he said. “I try to explain to them how we provide our services to consistently maintain a safe winter environment.”
Mr. Rasevic drafts a snow-management plan for each of his clients, who stand to lose thousands of dollars if they can’t open for business and could lose even more if someone gets injured on a slippery sidewalk. By Thanksgiving, he has mapped out his routes.
Experience is the best teacher, Mr. Rasevic said.
“Like anybody, we make mistakes,” he said. “We just try not to make them twice.”
During the offseason, Mr. Rasevic, who lives in the District with his wife and 2-year-old daughter, keeps busy with a landscaping service he owns and a construction business owned by his younger brother Paul.