When asked why he became a wastewater operator, Darek Kenaston reveals, “The more I got into it, the more I was interested. It was a good fit. I’ve always been around the water. I grew up in Florida, two blocks from the beach. I love the water, and why not be part of protecting it?”
These days, people want good pay, meaningful work, and opportunities to grow their career. That makes a stable career helping clean water – plus an opportunity to be part of a team that builds comradery and skills – a winning combination.
Four employees from the King County Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) make up the Poofighters – our team in the worlds’ biggest wastewater extreme challenge. For the past number of weeks, they’ve been gearing up to go “on tour” to Chicago, Ill., for the international Operations Challenge at the Water Environment Federation (WEF)’s WEFTEC conference. There, they compete against other utility teams and prove their skills in five different, intense events.
In the spotlight, the clock is ticking and judges scrutinize their every move. The competition is mentally and physically challenging – with real-life-simulated scenarios – including cutting a pipe as fast as they can and rescuing a coworker (really a safety dummy) from a manhole.
For Operator-in-Training Alexis Suprenant, who’s new to the team this year, joining the Poofighters was an opportunity to learn more about treatment plant fundamentals. “The Ops Challenge lets me get more into areas of treating wastewater beyond what operators do,” she said. The extreme challenges teach skills for various jobs – including those done by mechanics, laboratory / process analysts, and safety employees.
Latest tech / making connections
Operators Chad Vertz and Dustin Harris noted that the competition at WEFTEC was a chance to learn about new technologies – and from other operators from treatment plants around the world.
WEFTEC boasts a gigantic exhibition hall filled with demonstrations of the latest clean water technologies. Vendors may have solutions that can save utilities money and time.
Sharing information with each other is another way utilities keep improving how they do business. Operators have special knowledge of how to run plants and pump stations. Someone might have a story of solutions they tried for a problem that’s similar to one a different team faced.
All the Poofighters agreed that being part of a team, with its competitive but friendly environment, was the best part of being a wastewater operator. “I also have that with my shift crew,” noted Darek.
“It’s a really good career. This isn’t a job – it’s a career. It’s a passion. I saw that among my coworkers too. They say that if you find a job you truly love, you’ll never work again. King County is a good place to work for. They want you to succeed. You can go anywhere you want in this field – it just depends on your ambition and desire”.
Watch the Poofighters practice and hear what they have to say about the WEFTEC extreme challenge at this video:
Wanna be a Poofighter? For videos of the team and the WEFTEC events, visit http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/wtd/About/OpsChallengeTeam.aspx.
To learn more about careers at WTD, visit http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/wtd/About/Jobs.aspx.