Poofighters Operations Challenge Team Showcases Careers in Wastewater

Process laboratory specialist Suzanne Potts is part of an effort to attract new people to the profession by showing wastewater careers as dynamic and fun
Poofighters Operations Challenge Team Showcases Careers in Wastewater
Process laboratory specialist Suzanne Potts filters samples as part of the Total Suspended solids test at the King County West Point Treatment laboratory on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in Seattle. (Photo by Stephen Brashear)

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Forming the four-member Poofighters Operations Challenge team was one way the King County Wastewater Treatment Division sought to attract recruits to the industry. The team is named after the Seattle-based Foo Fighters rock band.

“Like wastewater facilities nationwide, King County is losing experienced professionals to retirement and competing with other agencies for quality candidates,” says Suzanne Potts, process laboratory specialist III at the division’s South Plant in Renton. “The vision is to provide learning and training experiences for employees, showcase wastewater careers as dynamic and fun, and promote King County as a great place to work.”

The Poofighters train for the annual WEFTEC event in a special center at the West Point Wastewater Treatment Plant. Nicknamed Clean Water U, the center has equipment to practice requirements as confined-space safety, lockout/tagout, laboratory procedures and mechanical maintenance. King County invites other Ops Challenge teams to practice there. “It makes us better and introduces us to other talent in our industry,” says Potts.

In their first Ops Challenge in 2011, the Poofighters placed near the bottom of 38 teams. Five years later, they placed ninth among 42 teams and in the top 10 in four events.

The team found another opportunity to reach prospective recruits at the Washington Women in Trades Fair, attended by high school students. “We scaled down some equipment and events from the Ops Challenge to provide hands-on experiences for participants,” says Potts. “Many of them expressed interest and even surprise at how much they enjoyed our interactive displays.”

Attendees took an inside look at the collection process by programing a sampler and cutting a pipe, at maintenance by disassembling and reassembling a small pump, and at laboratory procedures by measuring elements, pipetting water, and looking at live wastewater organisms through a microscope. “Our display has won first place twice and has failed to place only once in six years,” says Potts.


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