Chains, blades, and fire have been among the most common and useful tools for centuries, especially when used to build and maintain roads. But even with today’s high-tech improvements, the use of such tools can be ineffective or, at worst, turn deadly in a heartbeat without adequate training.

The 2013 Minnesota Roadway Maintenance Training and Demo Day on May 1 showcased the wide range of training services available to local transportation agencies around the state to safely and effectively take care of business. The annual event replaced the Spring Maintenance Training Expo last year.

The training and demo day, held at the Olmsted County Fairgrounds in Rochester, focused exclusively on education and technology exchange through classroom sessions and outdoor demonstrations. The demonstrations included chainsaw safety, gravel road maintenance using a motor grader, prescribed burning on prairies, asphalt pavement maintenance, and cargo securement of heavy loads, equipment, and machinery.

About 150 attendees divided into smaller groups for short demonstration sessions repeated at designated sites around the fairgrounds during the second half of the daylong event. Each demonstration followed up on a presentation given during an earlier general session indoors.

It was not unusual, for example, to see onlookers mesmerized as a chainsaw abruptly halted after starting to rip into a pair of protective chaps or as a fully suited firefighter nearby set a patch of straw aflame to simulate a controlled burn of prairie grass, an age-old technique to manage roadsides and other non-native areas.

"Fire is probably one of our best tools," said Tom Eckdahl, a manager with the Olmsted County Parks Department, demonstrating a prescribed burn. "We can utilize fire as a tool to cover more acres with less costs and actually have a better application. We’re not out there applying herbicide."

Not far away, John Okeson, a Minnesota LTAP gravel road design instructor and retired Becker County maintenance supervisor, kept an eye on assorted piles of gravel as a part of a demo involving materials identification.

"We find over the years that a lot of operators are running that piece of machinery with no formal training. They really don’t have an idea what they should be doing," Okeson said. "There’s a lot of good training available out there. Go get it and you’ll be well rewarded for it."

The Minnesota Department of Transportation, Minnesota Local Road Research Board, and the Federal Highway Administration, along with Minnesota LTAP, sponsored the training and demo day in partnership with the Minnesota Chapter of the American Public Works Association and the Minnesota Street Superintendents Association. The University of Minnesota College of Continuing Education facilitated the event.