The Fire Chief Project: Crediting those who keep working when it’s cold

Clean-water operators deserve plaudits for keeping things running in temperatures well below zero

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We’ve all seen the images in the paper and on tV: The firefighters, icicles hanging from their hats, after battling a blaze in Arctic weather.

Well firefighters aren’t the only ones who deserve credit for braving the cold. Amid the cold snap that hit much of the country earlier this week, Time Warner Cable in New York carried a story about city workers – including clean-water operators – who kept things running in brutal conditions.

“The Owls Head Wastewater Treatment Plant sits on the Brooklyn waterfront, but on a record cold day it resembled a polar ice station,” the TV report said. “A foggy mist rose from the settling tanks that treat the wastewater from the homes of hundreds of thousands of western Brooklyn residents.”

Vincent Sapienz, deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, said, “When people take showers or brush their teeth, water is a little bit warmer than the ambient air on a day like this, so you see a mist coming off the tanks like warm water is just condensing and forming a fog around the plant.”

The report continued, “Despite the less than ideal conditions, a plant with the capacity to treat 120 million gallons of wastewater a day needs to run around the clock, and that means the frigid temperatures can’t stop the routine for DEP workers.”

And Sapienza again: “We told them dress in layers. If you start feeling your fingers or face being cold, come inside, warm up a little. So we will rotate crews through. We’ll give them frequent breaks, just have guys to check on each other to make sure everybody’s safe.”

Mike Esposito, a DEP worker, observed, “It's a little uncomfortable. You just have to make sure you dress right...You know you are going to come and it’s going to be one of those days, so you just have to be prepared for it.”

Having workers recognized for taking on even the toughest of conditions helps advance the aims of The Fire Chief Project:
· Raise clean-water professionals to the status of the fire chief.
· Make kids grow up wanting to be clean-water operators.


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