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After Rinas crashed through the ice road in December, Northwind decorated his plow truck for the Christmas season. It stayed there until after the new year, at which time the ice was strong enough to allow road crews to pull it out. - Nathalie Heiberg-Harrison/NNSL photo

Office on wheels above the ice

Nathalie Heiberg-Harrison
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 23, 2012

This past ice road season wasn't without surprises for Kevin Rinas, but, according to him, surprises come to be expected when your office is on wheels and stationed on top of a turbulent frozen river.

NNSL photo/graphic

For the past six years Kevin Rinas has worked for Northwind Industries building and maintaining the Beaufort Delta's ice roads. - Nathalie Heiberg-Harrison/NNSL photo

"Every time you turn around it's a new adventure," he said.

Since he began working with Northwind Industries six years ago, Rinas has helped build and maintain the Beaufort Delta's ice roads from the time they open in December until they close in late April.

His work involves grading, plowing, trucking and, when he's back in the Northwind yard in Inuvik, being the jack of all trades in their shop.

"If I'm not running equipment, I'm in the shop wrenching. If I'm not wrenching, I'm welding," he said.

In December, on one of the days he was neither wrenching nor welding, The lifelong Inuvik resident did something he had never done in the 20 years he had been working on the ice road - he crashed right through it.

"I had gone over the area 40 or 50 times that day in my truck," he said. "The west wind started blowing and usually when the west wind blows it blows all the water in from the ocean and it puts stress on the ice."

At the south end of Cockney Channel, where Rinas was driving, two currents met and created a vortex that weakened the ice.

"I got right in the middle of the road. I was going to turn around on the other side of the corner and then (the truck) just dropped in," he said. "I was standing just outside the door holding onto the cab, making sure all the switches were off, and I noticed I started sinking - the piece of ice that I was on - so I hopped out."

Once Rinas got to solid ground, he surveyed the damage. He estimates his plow truck had sunk down four feet into the ice. Amazingly, after hitching a ride back to the Northwind yard to pick up another truck, he was back on the road within an hour.

Rinas never graduated from high school and instead said he learned what he knows from his father.

Later, he learned more and more on the job, and through the transportation of dangerous goods training program, WHMIS training and his Class 1 driver's licence certification course.

"My dad was a mechanic. Well, he was a jack of all trades and I pretty much followed his footsteps," he said. "When my dad first started teaching me to wrench he just gave me a handful of tools and said, 'I'll give you a day to pull that engine out.'"

Eight hours later, when the engine was out and on the shop floor, his first hands-on lesson was complete.

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