PHL Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Semi-Skilled Laborer Deborah Hill

Division of Aviation (DOA) Pavement & Grounds (P&G) Semi-skilled Laborer Deborah (“Debbie”) Hill recently received a “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work” award in the inaugural round of PHL’s Airport Employee Recognition Program. This award recognizes collaboration and teamwork across organizations that results in strong service delivery and positive experiences for our passengers. 

Hill has been at PHL since 2004 and recalls learning how to use a weed whacker on her first day. “That learning experience taught me how to cut the grass on my lawn,” said Hill. “I also learned the difference between needle nose pliers and other tools. I later learned how to drive a forklift and how to use a jackhammer.” She carries a Class B Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), allowing her to drive trucks weighing more than 26,001 pounds like the dump truck with plowing and salting capabilities she uses for snow removal.  

When winter comes, her department is usually mandated to work 28 to 48 hours or longer to ensure complete snow removal. “We’ve learned so much from one another on the job. We’ve shared so much, we’re a work family,” said Hill. “A lot of the men who retired passed on a lot of knowledge to everyone else, from using the backhoe tractor to the front load tractor, we learned a lot in one space, a lot of life skills.”    

During the snowy weather, you can find Hill plowing and salting the North and South Commercial Roads, Airport Arrivals Road, Car Rental Return Road, the Ramps to and from I-95 North and South, Island Ave, and Ft. Mifflin Road.  

When it’s not snowing, Hill works the morning shift, 7 am-3 pm, and sweeps the Airport Arrivals Road, the North and South Commercial Roads, and sometimes the train platform sidewalk. Her department also collaborates with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) for a training class before getting certified to power wash the train platform.   

At the airport, Hill excels in customer centrism, even taking it upon herself to assist a visually impaired guest in finding her Uber ride home. “I noticed she was lost and confused. I assisted her in crossing the street and finding her Uber driver,” said Hill.  

On her phone, you’ll find a translation app she uses to assist guests who speak different languages. “I downloaded the interpretations app on my phone because there are so many people here, and I can’t speak their languages, but I can use this app to help assist them,” said Hill. “Meeting different cultures and learning more about the world in one space, you can learn a lot and not even go anywhere. Being at PHL, you’re able to see the world in one location.”   

This application came to use when Hill assisted a Spanish-speaking family fleeing Hurricane Maria in 2017. “Although the language barrier was difficult, we got by with the app, and after trying to find a shelter for them, I was able to coordinate their stay at a hotel that was willing to pick them up,” she said. “The family had a child with special needs, so it was important that they got the assistance they needed.”    

In his nomination of Hill for the Employee Recognition Program, Airport Pavement & Grounds Superintendent Anthony Alfonse stated, “Debbie is just a very kind and considerate person by nature. She also acts as the eyes and ears for P&G and other maintenance shops, pointing out anything for repair or cleanup that she comes across.”  

Throughout her years at PHL, one of Hill's most memorable historical moments was when she assisted PHL in setting up a triage for an incoming flight of people fleeing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “To see some of the people come off the plane who were both grateful and sad it was a tough day, a lot of them lost everything, it still gets me emotional even now,” she said.   

Hill is only a few years away from retirement and would like to use her time off to travel. “I’ve been here for 17 years and have only been on two flights,” she said. “Seeing guests at PHL enjoy it so much makes me want to travel. I want to experience what I once visualized.”   

P&G took a group photo with Airport leadership after the Northeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives (NEC-AAAE) recognized PHL for their snow removal efforts. Debbie is the fourth person from the right.

When PHL was recently honored with an award by the Northeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives (NEC-AAAE) for snow removal efforts, Hill knew who she wanted to thank. “I want to thank my Supervisor Pavement & Grounds Group Leader William (‘Bill’) Vahey, he’s the type of guy who would still get in the truck and work with us. I would never let him down,” said Hill.   

You can find Hill interacting and helping people who often approach her because of her infectious positive energy. “I come in every day to do my work, but the part I enjoy the most is helping other people,” she said. “We’re all granted 24 hours, it’s what you do with it that makes the best of you.”  

P&G maintains and repairs the airport's airfields, runways, roadways, taxiways, and ramps, including removing ice and snow during the winter. The department also cuts grass and removes waste on the airfield and airport property. “We became like a family in P&G. We look forward to seeing one another and working together,” said Hill. “Knowing I can help guests while working is the most rewarding part.”   

Her department collaborates with Building Maintenance and the Paint Shop, often assisting one another with their job duties. When building maintenance takes a pole down, P&G removes it. P&G places the FAA Airport Runway Stencils on the airfield for the Paint Shop to properly paint the numbers and letters. 

The PHL Employee Recognition Program was established by the airport’s Guest Experience (GX) Department. Honorees are nominated by supervisors, peers or colleagues across the airport and selected by the GX Stakeholder Council Employee Conduct Working Group. For more information, click here.


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Christine Ottow
Director of Strategic Communications
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Heather Redfern
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