The Fire Chief Project: When the Commissioner Takes Over

What happens when the county commissioner spends a day as a wastewater operator?

Four years ago, the employee recognition committee in Calvert County, Maryland, had a genius idea. Similar to the popular reality show Undercover Boss, which puts high-level execs smack in the middle of day-to-day company operations, the committee decided to randomly draw a county employee name, give the winner a day off, and put a county commissioner in his or her place.

The program, which has had no budget impact, has been nothing short of fantastic. County employees enjoy the reward of a day of leisure while the commissioners get a new perspective of county jobs — including those within water and wastewater treatment.

This year, all county commissioners and the county administrator participated, taking on jobs such as a museum employee, a highway maintenance operator and a wastewater treatment operator.

According to a Southern Maryland News article, Commissioner Tom Heji was sent to the Prince Frederick wastewater treatment plant for a day in the life of an operator, where he toured the facility and visited each pump station.

“The experience was pretty interesting,” he said in the article. “I’m sure the majority of citizens have no idea how much technical expertise happens when you flush your toilet if you’re on (public) sewage.”

Commissioner President Steve Weems, who was also scheduled to work at a wastewater treatment plant, says the program highlights the importance of customer service in county government work.

At, we think this program is a great way to elevate the status of wastewater treatment operators. When those who make monetary decisions understand how a wastewater treatment system works and recognize the hard work of qualified operators, it’s a win-win for everyone.

And for that reason, this employee recognition program fulfills the aim of the Fire Chief Project, in which we hope to elevate the status of clean-water operators within their communities.

What about your county or city? Do those making budget decisions understand your job? Would a program like this work at your plant?

Let us know what you think.


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