"Road heroes" is the phrase John Austin, president of Bengal Transportation in Geismar, uses to describe commercial truck drivers during the raging coronavirus pandemic.
Tim Ordoyne, business development manager for Peterbilt of Louisiana and vice president at large for the Louisiana Motor Transport Association, adds that the trucking industry is the "backbone of this country at this point."
With countless Americans ordered to stay at home during the coronavirus crisis, truckers continue to climb into the cabs of their rigs to deliver the goods that keep the country moving, such as food, gasoline, sanitation products and medical supplies.
"At the end of the day the trucking industry is moving America's goods," said Randy Guillot, president of Triple G Express in New Orleans, which services the Port of New Orleans, and chairman of the American Trucking Association.
"It all comes down to us. We're proudly doing it," Guillot said. "We're out there in the face of this pandemic."
Along the way, trucking companies are doing all they can to ensure uninterrupted business operations while striving to protect the health and safety of their employees, drivers, customers and communities.
That's been no easy task. While many truckers do not load or unload their trucks, they do interact with the public.
"We're exposed to everything under the sun," explained Austin, who said Bengal Transportation's 160 drivers work across the country and deliver everything from groceries to oilfield products to cranes. "We're interacting with the public, the (petrochemical) plants, everybody we deliver goods to."
"These guys are the road heroes," he said. "I want the community to recognize what these men and women are doing."
Austin said the company's coronavirus safety measures include temperature checks and sanitizing products for all employees, adhering to the 6-foot social distancing rule, and the majority of office employees working remotely. The building was fogged and sprayed, and a full-time cleaning person was hired.
"We spend extra time wiping all our trucks down, keeping our equipment clean," he said.
Louisiana Motor Transport Association executive director Chance McNeely said the organization, which represents 5,800 trucking companies and some 90,000 workers, is stressing sanitary measures to "keep this thing at bay."
The very workers who get medical supplies to hospitals and food to grocery stores – truck drivers – are having problems of their own eating on…
Al LaCombe is vice president of safety and risk management for Dupré Logistics LLC in Lafayette, which has 750 trucks and more than 1,350 employees. The company operates from hubs near major metropolitan areas and services all of the contiguous 48 states and parts of Canada and Mexico, delivering gasoline, non-hazardous chemicals, plastics and coffee, to name a few.
LaCombe said the company's trucks are sanitized after every shift. Drivers are provided sanitation materials and urged to follow the 20-second hand washing rule.
Drivers also are encouraged to stay focused in these difficult and challenging times, LaCombe said.
"Don't sit and visit. Grab a cup of coffee and get going," he said.
When drivers are delivering gasoline, LaCombe noted, electronic invoices are being used to cut down on a driver's personal contact with others.
"If we can prevent someone from getting sick, we can be successful," he said.
Dupré is working with skeleton crews at its Lafayette corporate headquarters and at its truck terminals.
LaCombe said he's been with Dupré for nearly 38 years and has seen a lot of things, "but I've never seen anything like this."
Tiffany Rivet is vice president of the holding company that owns Port Allen-based L&B Transport, which has 400 trucks and services the United States and Canada, delivering such things as chemicals, raw materials for the paper industry, and agriculture industry products.
Drivers are wearing masks and gloves, their temperature is checked, and the company doesn't wait for a coronavirus test if a driver exhibits symptoms, Rivet said.
"We remove them from the road immediately and recover the load," she said.
Rivet said truck stops are sending out messages to trucking companies if truck stop employees test positive for the coronavirus. The company also updates its drivers regularly on the availability of truck stop bathrooms and showers.
"We're basically having to adapt every day," she said.
Peterbilt's Ordoyne said he sees customers postponing purchases of new trucks during the current crisis, particularly customers who deal with market segments hardest hit by the economic downturn, such as the oil and gas industry.
Peterbilt of Louisiana has dealerships in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, New Orleans and Lake Charles. Those dealerships also offer parts, service and body shop departments.
For truckers who are making cross-country runs through Louisiana and are in need of repair services, Ordoyne said Peterbilt is trying to put them at the head of the line.
"We're trying to be mindful of the guys who are passing through," he said. "It's a balance. It's a juggling act."
Rivet said everyone's been very supportive of the trucking industry during the crisis. But that hasn't always been the case. LMTA's McNeely said the coronavirus outbreak "may change the perception of the American truck driver" when the crisis is over. He said the drivers are unsung American heroes.
Guillot, with the American Trucking Association, said he has heard of drivers who tested positive for the coronavirus, were later given a clean bill of health, and went back to work.
"Everybody depends on us," he said.