The Fire Chief Project: Clean-Water operators "fight fires" too

Plant team members’ quick thinking helps prevent a sewage bypass

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When the fire department does its job, trucks roar down the streets, sirens blazing. People from miles around may see the smoke. The TV and newspaper photographers arrive. The radio station may report right from the scene. Hours later, or certainly the next day, everyone in town knows what happened. The firefighters look like heroes.

And rightly so. But how about when clean-water operators do the extraordinary to keep local waterways clean? There’s no smoke. There are no sirens. There is no news story the next day. Unless of course someone from the plant team decides to talk about it publicly. And doing so furthers the 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.

Recent events in Chesterton, Ind., show what can happen when operators do their job well – and tell about it, too. A story in the Chesterton Tribune newspaper tells how quick thinking by two operators likely prevented a sewage bypass. Terry Atherton, newly appointed utility superintendent, reported on the event to the Utility Service Board at its regular meeting, and a news reporter was there.

“Power failures had caused the raw sewage pumps to short out, but Zach Blakley and Spencer West managed to cobble together a combination of pumps, using the computer SCADA system, to keep the sewage flowing,” the newspaper reported Atherton saying.

“He added that quotes are now being obtained for the installation of manual override switches to allow operators to run the pumps without going through the SCADA,” the news article said. Boar member Andy Michel expressed his gratitude to Blakley and West and noted that their work is yet another example of the professionalism demonstrated by the utility’s employees.”

As news about clean-water operators goes, it doesn’t get much better than that! What heroic actions have your team members taken to keep the waters clean? Send a note to and I’ll be glad to pass the word along your peers in the industry.


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