William D. Hatfield Award Crowns a Career for an Ohio Operator

Frank D’Ambrosia hits all the right notes conducting plant operations and training programs while building an award-winning career as a clean-water plant superintendent.
William D. Hatfield Award Crowns a Career for an Ohio Operator
Frank D’Ambrosia, superintendent, Village of Archbold Wastewater Treatment Plant.

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Like a master musician, a wastewater treatment PLANT superintendent must make sure everything works in harmony — from equipment to operators. That’s what Frank D’Ambrosia has been doing successfully for 11 years as superintendent at the Village of Archbold (Ohio) Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Since March 1, 2004, this easygoing former music teacher and traveling musician has overseen a major expansion at the plant, 40 miles southwest of Toledo. He has also ensured that the 2.5 mgd facility meets all federal and state environmental regulations, kept the collections system functioning, and made sure his operators get the training they need to keep their certifications. Such diligence has earned D’Ambrosia a rewarding career and an industry lifetime achievement award.

Last year D’Ambrosia received the William D. Hatfield Award from the Northwest Ohio Water Environment Association (NWOWEA). The award recognizes outstanding performance and professionalism over a career.

The awards program said, “Frank D’Ambrosia truly embodies what it means to be a consummate wastewater professional.” Citing how he organized and taught the NWOWEA’s semiannual Operator Education Day, which prepares operators to take state wastewater certification tests, the writeup mentioned that D’Ambrosia has opened the plant to host many hands-on workshops for area operators and “routinely provides training to employees in many areas, including digester operations, secondary system DO control and proper procedures for taking readings on sludge blankets, grit removal procedures and lab analysis.”

As for D’Ambrosia’s reaction, “I was very surprised,” he says in an accent that gives away his New Yorker background. “It’s quite an honor and one that reaffirms my belief that wastewater has been a great career that I’ve had the good fortune to pursue for the last 35 years.”

Expansion experience

D’Ambrosia started work life as a music teacher. Later, while touring with a five-piece band (see sidebar), he met his wife, Susan, who had family in Defiance, a city of 16,500 in northwestern Ohio. In 1979, D’Ambrosia found a job at the city wastewater treatment plant, which “went from work-and-a-paycheck to a career.”

“A year later, we went down to south Florida, where I worked for about a year and a half,” says D’Ambrosia. “I first worked at a 2 mgd wastewater facility for a private utility and got my Class A wastewater license. Then I moved to the Broward County Wastewater Treatment Plant just north of Miami. When I started there the facility was under construction to expand from 20 mgd to 60 mgd. While in Florida, I gained a lot of valuable knowledge that I brought back to Defiance.”

D’Ambrosia worked his way up from operator to assistant superintendent and experienced a plant expansion from 4 mgd to 6 mgd. He then moved to Archbold, a village of 4,300. Along the way, he got his Class III certification in wastewater.

The Archbold plant underwent a $6 million upgrade in 2006-07. The renovation increased capacity from 1.75 mgd to 2.5 mgd with 5 mgd peak flow. It also added a grease removal system, new final clarifiers, a new ferrous chloride storage tank, new chlorination and dechlorination systems, a new process monitoring and control system, and a new operations building. The project also included modifications to a tertiary lagoon to create an overflow basin that retains diverted influent over 5 mgd.

Today, the plant’s activated sludge process treats an average daily flow of 1.6 mgd and removes 96.8 percent of TSS, 99.1 percent of CBOD, 92.4 percent of ammonia and 90.5 percent of phosphorus. Effluent discharges to Brush Creek, which flows into the Tiffin River, a 55-mile-long tributary of the Maumee River. Class B biosolids are applied to farm fields.

During the renovation, D’Ambrosia worked closely with the city’s engineering team and with Jones & Henry Engineers of Toledo. Five years ago, D’Ambrosia and his team added two biosolids lagoons, bringing the total to five and providing a year’s storage. In 2013, the facility added an air diffusion system to its wet-weather retention lagoon, keeping solids suspended until the water is treated. Last spring, the plant added a larger and more efficient grit removal, washing and dewatering system.

The right touch

Orchestrating these projects, while maintaining 40 miles of sewer lines, nine lift stations and an industrial pretreatment program, requires a deft touch and strong management skills. D’Ambrosia displays those qualities in abundance, says Dennis Howell, village administrator.

“Frank is an interesting guy,” says Howell. “He has a lot of interests and talents, including being a fine musician, and he’s very knowledgeable and astute in the wastewater field. Everybody has a lot of respect for Frank. If you can’t get along with him, it’s your problem. Frank fits in with our vision of being proactive in keeping our wastewater operators trained and their skills sharp.”

Of the plant’s seven operators (one a nearly full-time lab technician), five have Class III certifications and one has a Class I certification. Three know how to operate the plant’s combination cleaning truck to vacuum the sewer lines. D’Ambrosia sees that they get the continuing education they need to keep their certifications, learn new technologies and maintain plant equipment.

“I do my own training,” says D’Ambrosia. “Through NWOWEA, I set up a half-day of training that we invite people in the community to come to. Plus, I do training with the operators, such as bringing in chlorine people to talk about chlorine application. Also, through the Ohio WEA, I set up a review session twice a year for young operators planning to take the wastewater certification exam. We have three sessions that day. I teach the basic wastewater course and have experts who teach advanced wastewater and do a review of the collections system.”

Praise for training

The operators are grateful for the education D’Ambrosia provides and for his collaborative management style, which encourages them to take responsibility and run with good ideas. They credit him with keeping morale high and fostering a team environment.

“He’s a real good boss who lets us do what we need to do to get the job done,” observes Mike Short, assistant superintendent and maintenance chief. “Frank gives us free rein and doesn’t micromanage,” says Short, a Class III operator and 28-year plant veteran. “Frank is excellent when it comes to getting us training. If we get an email message about a program, say a motor or pump class, he’ll let us go, juggling the schedule so we’ll have people here to run the plant. We can go pretty much anywhere in Ohio. It’s an asset to everybody.”

Randy Volkman, a Class III operator who has been at the plant for 19 years, adds, “Frank is an easy guy to work for. When we have bigger projects, we tell him and he gives us the green light to proceed. He’s very supportive and gives us every chance to get the training we need to do our jobs better.”

For D’Ambrosia, it’s all part of being a good leader, as is a strong work ethic. That means getting in at 6:30 in the morning, checking the SCADA system, overseeing lab tests and addressing issues, from balky equipment to a homeowner with a backed-up sewer.

“Communication up and down is very important,” he says. “So is delegating — letting people take ownership of their work and become part of what’s being done, rather than wait to be told what to do. It’s what makes the job rewarding.”


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