When a Life of Fishing, Hunting and Travel Wasn't Enough, This Man Found New Energy in a Second Career

Not content in retirement, Doug Heistand found a second career in water treatment. It has served him well while he has served others.

When a Life of Fishing, Hunting and Travel Wasn't Enough, This Man Found New Energy in a Second Career

Retirement from the grocery business didn’t satisfy Heistand, who adapted easily to a new career in the water business.

A lot of people dream of retirement days spent fishing, hunting and traveling. Doug Heistand did, too — until he grew bored.

After four years in the Navy, Heistand worked in the grocery business for 25 years. For 19 of those years, he and his wife owned five stores in and around Tampa, Florida. Each was different, and each served a highly localized customer base.

“The grocery business is a hard one to be in,” Heistand says. “You’ve got ’em beating up on you seven days a week with things like whether the help came in, whether the produce got in on time, or did the milk truck bring the whole milk part of your gallon milk order?”

After he retired from the grocery trade in 2002, he found a second career as a water plant operator with the Hillsborough County (Florida) Public Utilities Department. He has enjoyed it greatly, and many of his team members are better for having worked with him.

Boredom sets in

Upon retiring, Heistand worked on his house until it was in “tiptop shape” and mowed the grass a lot. He also had a friend who owned a boat business, and he spent time there. And he hunted, fished and traveled. “I’ve been all over the U.S., and I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t shoot game anymore,” he says. “I’ve about lost interest in hunting and fishing.”

Five years into retirement, he wanted to go back to work: “The big thing was the health insurance. We were paying a big number for it.” While he was deciding what to do next, a neighbor told him she worked in the Hillsborough County water utility. They needed a water plant operator trainee at the Lithia Water Treatment Plant.

Heistand kept asking her questions and liked what he heard. He continued his research at a nearby junior college, where he found out about the water and wastewater correspondence courses offered by California State University, Sacramento (www.owp.csus.edu). Thinking that might be the best route for him, he signed up.

Back to school

“I didn’t know if I would be able to do it or not,” he recalls. “When I got that first book, I was reading it and told my wife, ‘I’m not sure I understand how the authors are thinking.’ She said, ‘Just try it. Send some of those tests in and get them graded. See what you get.’” He did so, and when he got his scores back, he saw that he’d done very well.

“That gave me the confidence to go on. I kept taking the Sacramento courses until I’d gone all the way through.” It was difficult going back to school after being away for 30 years, but he must have caught on pretty well. He earned the Florida water treatment operator Class A license: “Those are hard to get.”

In 2008, he got an operator trainee job at the Lithia water plant. (The county has four water treatment plants and five wastewater treatment plants). After working at the Lithia plant for a couple of months, he transferred to his present assignment at the 19 mgd Central Water Treatment Plant, which then was brand new.

Learning the ropes

Heistand was a member of the commissioning crew at the Central plant: “I was here the day they opened it up. It was a lot of work, but it was fun and it was something new. It wasn’t the same thing every day.

“I learned a whole lot about how the department operates and what we have to do. It was a learning process for me, a big one. I wasn’t used to doing all the things we had to do to operate properly, like building SOPs (standard operating procedures) and MSDSs (Material Safety Data Sheets) — things of that nature.”

Someone else usually wrote the procedures, and he and the other operators formatted them and assembled them into books. “Every bit of this was new to me. For example, I had to learn how to run these new pumps. I came out of the grocery business. I’d never seen this kind of equipment. But I made a point of learning how to do it.”

The plant was almost 100% complete when the staff got there to commission it. “I might have come over once or twice while we were waiting for it to open to learn how to operate certain equipment, but it was already up and running when they sent us over here to stay.”

Taking to training

One of Heistand’s greatest contributions to the plant and the department is his work as a trainer. During his tenure, he has trained about 10 operators. “I like the training part a lot,” he says. “I like working with these young people. I’ve been real lucky. The process the county uses to hire people has worked well. They’re very good at it. I’ve been able to make licensed operators out of all the trainees I’ve worked with.”

Two operators he has trained have gone on to earn A licenses. When training, he works against a thorough checklist: Everything gets covered. “My job is to get them trained on how we do things here. I get them ready for their own shift and make sure they know how to do everything they’ll be doing. I teach them how to run the plant.” Trainees also have weekly progress conferences to go over everything that’s being covered.

Heistand’s boss, Norrise Shellman, describes him as a “passionate and dedicated employee who has established a strong, positive environment for new and veteran employees to be confident, eager, creative and multiskilled.”

A great career move

In a recommendation to the Florida Section of American Water Works Association for the 2018 Operator’s Meritorious Service award (which he won), Heistand’s supervisors noted that he “has used his firsthand knowledge through the startup of the Central Water Treatment Facility to provide plant operator trainees with one-on-one advice and guidance to gain new skills, improve performance and enhance the quality of their careers.”

Heistand clearly enjoys his work. “It makes my job easier if the trainees know what they’re doing. They’re all going to be operators in the end. The pay is there. All they have to do is go for the license, so I encourage them to take the tests and get all they can get out of this job, because it’s such a good career.

“Once I got into this, I said, ‘This is pretty good. Where was it when I was young?’”   


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