Brown-Bagging It

Brown-Bagging It
Mike Hecker with one of the displays he used in the Brown Bag session.

When the Colorado city of Fort Morgan launched a series of Brown Bag Lunches to help residents learn about city departments, Mike Hecker was glad to make his department first in line.

Hecker, superintendent of the 2.25 mgd (design) City of Fort Morgan Wastewater Treatment Plant, addressed people at a Feb. 11 lunch at the local library and museum. According to a news story in the Fort Morgan Times newspaper, his audience was bigger than the typical turnout for previous series of monthly Brown Bag sessions. “The little room we used was pretty full,” Hecker says.

Such presentations are one way in which clean-water operators can work toward achieving the status of the fire chief.

It’s The Bugs

To set the tone, Hecker passed out the plant’s brochure, which shows a young boy looking into a toilet and a headline, “Ever wonder where it goes?” Twenty-three years in the industry make him well qualified to answer. He walked the group through a slide presentation showing the plant’s treatment stages, from primary settling, to secondary aeration and biological nutrient removal, to UV disinfection before discharge to the South Platte River.

“I went through the whole process, and I focused on the microorganisms that do all the hard work out here,” Hecker says. As a prop, he used a paper model of the plant.

The newspaper said the audience seemed impressed. “You’re actually putting better stuff into the river than is already in it — wow!” one attendee told the paper. Another observed, “He’s so descriptive, and he does it on a scale that doesn’t require you to have a lot of education to understand.”

Career Possibilities

Hecker didn’t waste the opportunity to make a pitch for his business as a source of career opportunities. “You don’t have to have a four-year degree to become a wastewater operator,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “I wish more kids would become involved. There’s going to be a big need. A lot of people have a bad idea about this industry. They think we’re rolling around in the muck 24/7. As you can see, we’re not.”

Andrew Dunehoo, instigator of the Brown Bag Lunches, told the paper, “Mike is the epitome of that phrase, ‘If you never want to work a day in your life, love what you do.’ People need to know these things so they don’t take it for granted and understand how it works.”

Dunehoo invited Hecker to speak after sitting in on his presentation at a meeting of city department heads. Since the Brown Bag lunch, Hecker has accepted speaking invitations for the local Rotary and Optimist clubs. Earlier this year, about 40 children in a local home-schooling network toured the plant.

“We encourage the public to get to know us,” says Hecker. “I wish we would get more response.” He’s not at all shy about taking his message in front of the public. In fact, he says, “I like doing it.”   


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