Knox County's 'QuaranTeam' Isolates in Treatment Plant for Weeks

Knox County's 'QuaranTeam' Isolates in Treatment Plant for Weeks

From left, Bill Longworth, Jordan Durham, Craig Mayes and Chris Smith were the first group who quarantined themselves at a water treatment facility at the First Utility District of Knox County, Tennessee.

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Witnessing the selfless nature of people stepping up is often the silver lining amid crises.

It’s no surprise that the water/wastewater industry has seen its fair share of people rising to the occasion during the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous operators and plant managers have adjusted their work schedules by extending shifts, and in some cases, taking more drastic measures to ensure safe water for their communities.

The First Utility District (FUD) of Knox County, Tennessee, has a group of operators and managers that have been coined the “QuaranTeam,” after volunteering to quarantine themselves at their plant for a number of weeks.

Craig Mayes, environmental and regulatory compliance for FUD, and three others were the first group of volunteers to quarantine at the plant. “The initial group that I was in here with were here for three weeks,” says Mayes. “Then another team was put together, they were tested, and they relieved us.”

Now, the teams are on regular two-week cycles with all individuals tested for COVID-19 before their two-week quarantined shift begins. After that, the daily operations remain the same.

“We have the normal routine of monitoring the system, maintenance, testing and those things that make up the majority of your day,” says Mayes. “After that, we had to learn how to cook and those sorts of things, and that takes up the evenings.”

Getting crews to fill the shifts was easy. “The majority of the guys shared the same feelings that I had,” says Mayes. “We are all certified operators. This is what we do.”

Giving back to the community

For Mayes and his team members, not only is it about doing their jobs, it’s about doing what they can during uncertain times. “This community has given a lot to us – our careers, our jobs – and this is where we give back,” says Mayes. “This is where we put the public’s mind at ease as one thing they don’t have to be concerned about.”

He says it’s not always easy, though. “It’s difficult being away from your family, but there are things that have definitely made it easier to deal with.”

Part of what has made it easier according to Mayes is the “team behind the team.” Everyone at FUD from office workers to management helps the QuaranTeam in any way they can by providing groceries or any items the team needs during their stay. The team considers themselves fortunate to work at such a nice plant that was already equipped with a full bathroom with shower as well as an oven, microwave, other kitchen accommodations, and a TV for entertainment.

Several other plants have reach out to FUD to discuss the situation, and many plants are enacting similar strategies. “I know our general manager has received a lot of calls regarding what our plan was and what we were doing,” says Mayes.

Another Tennessee plant with workers volunteering to quarantine is Gallatin Public Utilities. According to WTVF news, as of late April, six utility workers in Gallatin had not left the water plant in almost a month.

“Really I was just trying to fill the shifts,” plant manager Bennie Baggett tells WTVF. What he got was five individuals volunteering to camp out during the pandemic.

The crew was provided a top-of-the-line coach bus from All Access Coaching, providing 12 bunks for sleeping and an area to relax outside the facility. Full story from WTVF News is available here.

The QuaranTeam and fellow operators locking down in their plants have grabbed the attention of media outlets and gained traction on social media. Mayes thinks that is because people are looking for anything positive right now and hearing about people doing something for the good of their community is uplifting.

“I think people need to hear a good story. It’s been inundated lately with negativity,” says Mayes. “People want to hear something positive.”

He also says that seeing their trending Facebook page and recognition has been a welcome boost for him and his team. “I’ll be honest with you, it does a whole lot for your morale when you’re here and away from your family. It’s cool to know that people get what we’re doing here.”


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