Wastewater Wrenchers Recognized for Mechanical Skills

The Iowa WEA makes a positive step with special recognition for those who maintain and fix the mechanical equipment that keeps plants running right.
Wastewater Wrenchers Recognized for Mechanical Skills
Andrew Hunter

Wastewater operators run the “bug factories” that churn out clean effluent day after day. But the processes depend on a host of mechanical and electrical equipment — pumps, blowers, scrapers, conveyors, augers, presses, electronic instruments and more.

That’s where maintenance teams come in. Many operators, especially at smaller facilities, double as maintenance workers. Still, numerous plants rely on the skills of mechanics, electricians, plumbers, instrument technicians and other specialists to keep processes online.

Well deserved

The Iowa Water Environment Association each year honors some of the best of those professionals with the Wrenchers Award. The most recent winners (2016) are Fred Hagenmaier, senior maintenance worker at the Ames Water Pollution Control Plant, and Andrew Hunter, plant mechanic with the Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Facility.

The Wrenchers are professionals who have performed exceptionally in water pollution treatment facility maintenance. Winners are honored at the IAWEA annual statewide meeting and are inducted into what the association calls “an exclusive club.” Each recipient receives an award plaque and lapel pin.

It’s fitting recognition that not every WEA or operator association confers. Proper maintenance helps maximize equipment uptime and process continuity; prompt and skillful repairs lessen the impact of the occasional, inevitable equipment breakdown.

“Wrenchers is a very nice program,” says Larry Hare, treatment manager in Des Moines. “It’s a chance to give excellent treatment plant mechanics the recognition they deserve.

They keep these multimillion-dollar plants operating efficiently. That’s great for the environment. Without the mechanics to keep them running, some of these aging plants wouldn’t be able to meet their NPDES permit limits.”

Hagenmaier and Hunter join 35 other Wrenchers recognized since the award’s inception in 1999 (see sidebar). Both earn high praise from their supervisors.

Caring deeply

Hagenmaier, who has been with the Ames plant for more than 20 years, received the award with roughly the maximum humility: “I thought that since I’m planning on retiring this year, they were just throwing the old guy a bone. I always figured my wage was my pat on the back.”

Jim McElvogue, plant superintendent, considers Hagenmaier a valuable asset. “Fred is always looking to contribute to the efficiency of the plant,” he says. “He has always been very interested in how well the plant performs and in doing the best we can to put out the best water possible. He’s an outdoorsman and really cares about the environment.

“Fred is our No. 1 guy when it comes to working on our vertical turbine pumps. He knows exactly the steps to follow when we’re changing out impellers or removing pumps for service and reinstalling them. Those are quite complicated procedures. He just gets in and gets the job done. He’s always willing to come in after hours or on weekends. It shows how much he cares about the job we do.”

Lubrication expert

Hunter, who has been at the Des Moines facility for 15 years, is an enthusiastic team member and a self-starter. “Andy takes a lot upon himself to improve energy efficiency and plant operations,” says Hare. “He’s the main person who keeps our equipment lubricated correctly.”

Hunter performs oil analysis on major equipment, such as the plant’s process air blower and cogeneration engines. That helps him devise longer oil change intervals based on oil properties instead of simply changing the oil after a prescribed period.

“Andy did a six-month trial of synthetic versus conventional oil on our process air blower,” says Hare. “He compared before and after and found that the synthetic oil increased the blower’s energy efficiency by 0.5 to 1.5 percent.” The trial also led to a tripling of the oil-change interval. In total, the switch to synthetic oils saves $2,300 to $7,800 a year.

“That wasn’t the first time Andy stepped forward and with little or no recognition moved us ahead,” says Hare. “He’s one of our hardest workers. He doesn’t waste time. He’s willing to stay late or work through breaks or lunchtime if needed to finish a job within a day.”

Hunter observes, “It felt good to be recognized. A lot of good ideas go unnoticed that come from people on the maintenance side with years of experience in the field. If more of it were shared, maybe people at other plants could use the same tools or techniques” to make their facilities perform better.

“Some people in this field don’t appreciate how much they know,” Hunter adds. “They do their job. They make it look easy. They just take it for granted. I think it would help if the higher-level managers at larger facilities made it part of their day to get out and see what their workers are doing — see it firsthand and ask questions. What’s the big problem of the day? How did you solve that problem?”

Here’s a hat tip to Hagenmaier and Hunter, and to the IAWEA for recognizing the contributions of a group of essential people to efficient and effective clean-water plant performance.

Elite society

The Iowa WEA Wrenchers Award goes back to 1999. Here are the current and past winners of the award:

2016: Fred Hagenmaier, Ames; Andrew Hunter, Des Moines
2015: Scott Obernolte and Randy Heath, Allied Systems
2014: Cory Warner, Fairfield
2013: Joe Lander, Marshalltown
2012: Monte Whetstone, Ames
2011: Andrew Larson, Zimmer & Francescon; Bill Miller and Steve Moehlmann, Des Moines; Bob Ranson,Marshalltown; Jim Rasmussen, HR Green
2010: Terry Moss, Des Moines; Kevin Crawford, Indianola;         Jim Fox, Muscatine
2009: Jay Merrill, Ottumwa
2008: Richard Nelson, Cedar Rapids
2007: Shawn Worley, Fairfield
2006: David Gliem, Perry
2005: Tom Fuller, Cedar Rapids; Alex Allison, Allison             Mechanical
2004: Scott Shannon, Des Moines
2003: Ron Kayser, Le Mars
2002: Bob Jones, Muscatine; Darin Hoover, Knoxville
2001: Jim Pergande, Algona; John Noid, Cedar Rapids; Steve Beeler, Des Moines
2000: Terry Lund; Larry Metcalf, Ankeny
1999: Dick Burbank, Des Moines; Larry Trout; Tom Hansen, Iowa City; Dennis Belkin, Iowa Great Lakes Sanitary District; Darrell Hunter, Ames; Bob Watson, Pollution Control Systems; Lynn Pitts, Ankeny


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