Greg Cox, mechanic supervisor with the N.C. Forest Service, was recently awarded a Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Efficiency and Innovation at a ceremony at the N.C. Museum of History. He was nominated for devising a program to save money on the Forest Service’s equipment repairs and maintenance. The Governor’s Awards for Excellence are the highest honor a state employee can receive. Greg was nominated at the state level after he was selected as Employee of the Year at the department level.
“Greg demonstrates a can-do attitude and a spirit of innovation that is admirable, and I’m thrilled to have his work acknowledged by the governor,” said N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “It’s great to have others recognize something I’ve known for many years – that our department has the best employees in state government.”
Cox is responsible for the maintenance and repair of more than 100 pieces of rolling stock across an eight-county district. This equipment ranges from pick-up trucks with slip-on firefighting units to heavy equipment such as bulldozers, forklifts and motor graders. These units must be kept in a state of readiness in order to fulfill the legislative mandate that the N.C. Forest Service protect residents of North Carolina from destructive wildfire. Greg also has direct supervision of three employees, a mechanic, forest fire equipment operator and smoke chaser.
“Greg demonstrates a dedicated work ethic, can-do attitude, and a spirit of innovation on the job,” said Don Watson, district forester out of the N.C. Forest Service’s Rockingham office. “Many of Greg’s ideas or innovations have saved the State of North Carolina tens of thousands of dollars. Greg is an expert in metal fabrication and can often times make the parts that most others are required to purchase.”
According to Watson, Cox has improvised and or invented many pieces of equipment for the district, including rebuilding about 20 heavy duty hitches that have broken. At a cost of more $600 per hitch, the savings add up quickly. The hitches are used on bulldozers to pull large, heavy, fire plows and are about 2 inches around and 6 inches long.
Cox’s skill is not limited to repairing hitches. IIn fact, he developed and built two new fire plows that allow for more accurate control of the fire plow depth. This allows the plows to be used in lighter, sandier soils, while still having the capability to operate in the parts of the state where a heavier, deeper fire line is required to get through the thick root mats in the organic soils.
Since this type of fabrication work requires specialized tools, in addition to specialized skills, Cox acquired two pieces of large equipment from the a community college that no longer needed them. The fabrication equipment was valued at between $10,000 and $15,000.
Cox also fabricated shrouds for some of the older shop tools that satisfies the safety requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which saved the Forest Service thousands of dollars that would have been required to update their shop tools.
In addition to his fabrication skills, Cox has made other money-saving recommendations. This includes researching and recommending that the district invest in a transmission flusher to help maintain the districts’ initial attack vehicles. Current maintenance standards require the transmissions to be serviced every 30,000 miles, which usually takes place every other year at a cost of $165, which equates to a savings of over $3,000 a year.
Cox’s dedication extends outside of the garage as well. As one of only two mechanics in the district on call every day, he is often called on after hours for repairs needed on firefighting equipment in the field, where conditions are usually anything but ideal. On a recent Sunday morning, Cox was called at 2 a.m. to help get a tractor that was stuck while fighting a fire. He responded promptly to the fire scene and was instrumental in getting the tractor back to work.
“Greg is the go-to-guy for repair advice, not only in the district but across the state,” Watson said. “He is often called by other mechanics to give his thoughts on a situation with a piece of equipment from another district.”
During a busy fire season in 2011, Cox was dispatched outside of his district seven times and was out of town and away from his family for a total of 93 days that year. For many of these dispatches Cox was requested by name because others across the state also recognize the great work that Greg does.
“Greg is one of the most dedicated people to his job that I have been around,” Watson added. “One of Greg’s best characteristics is that he demonstrates that nature with a positive attitude. He genuinely enjoys his job and likes to have fun doing it.”