The Fire Chief Project: You Called Me What?

What’s your real job function? Are you an operator? Technician? Specialist? Which title do you prefer?

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People in the clean-water profession are largely called operators, and they wear the title with pride. But does that term do you justice?

The National Rural Water Association is campaigning to have people who run wastewater or drinking water facilities labeled as water system and wastewater system operations specialists.

The thought, according to Sam Wade, deputy CEO of NRWA, is the “specialist” better reflect the knowledge, skills and expertise of people in the water professions. And his organization believes the change in titles can help attract more young people to replace the Baby Boomer about to retire from the business.

Wade asks: “If you were just getting out of school and looking for a job, would you most likely apply to an ad for ‘system operator’ or ‘system operations specialist?’” The term “operator,” in NRWA’s opinion, connotes someone who basically runs a machine. Yet people in the clean-water professions do much more, dealing with complex technology, stringent regulations, chemical and biological processes, and legal liabilities. The careers require significant training, and many in the profession have post-secondary degrees.

So, an argument can be made that a change in titles can help fulfill 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.

So, what would you rather be called? In an NRWA online survey of water and wastewater professionals that drew 1,850 responses, 72 percent preferred the title “specialist” or “technician” over “operator.”

Do you think the term “specialist” does more justice to your profession? Do you think a title of “specialist” could help attract a new generation of colleagues? Might a title of “specialist” gain the respect of those who hold the purse string and help push salaries up?

Share your opinions. Leave a comment below or email me at


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