The Fire Chief Project: Giving credit to unsung heroes

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department highlights team members’ excellent work

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It’s a tough time to be a water or wastewater professional in Detroit – the city’s fiscal issues are well known. However, the team at the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) benefits from a public outreach program that includes profiles of top-performing staff members – profiles that help contribute to the two key aims of The Fire Chief Project:

  • Raise clean-water operators to the status of the fire chief.
  • Make kids grow up wanting to be clean-water operators.

The DWSD publishes an Operation Clean Water online magazine on its outreach portal ( through a Public Education Work Group that includes staff from the department, wholesale customers and consultants. One objective of the publication is to focus on the people behind the service to showcase the human component of water and wastewater services.

 As an example of the publication’s Faces of Water profiles, here are some excerpt from a story about Charni Calvert, a wastewater technician:

“Charni Calvert’s ingenuity has been honed throughout DWSD’s CSO treatment facilities by applying her technical knowledge and refining troubleshooting skills to address the challenges encountered when treating wet-weather flows. Every storm event is different, and Charni skillfully oversees retention treatment basin operations, deciding how to route flows and when to adjust dosage rates, monitoring influent and effluent water quality, dewatering and flushing the basin after use, and repairing equipment when needed...

“Because CSO facilities operate intermittently, operators are committed to performing preventive maintenance during dry weather to ensure the facility is ready to run at full speed the next time it rains. Operations staff grease equipment, pull pumps, change belts, unfreeze sample pumps and perform everything except the heavy maintenance that requires specialized equipment. Pride is evident in how these facilities look and operate...”

“While the job is exhausting at times, meeting permit requirements is a motivator for Charni. ‘There is always a puzzle to solve in CSO facility operations because every event is different,’ she explains. ‘We are held accountable to the permit and protecting public health. If something breaks, I have to fix it and keep the facility running.’”

You can read more Faces of Water profiles at



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