"Smooth Operators" Make Waves at Competition

"Smooth Operators" Make Waves at Competition

November 18, 2019

They call themselves the “Smooth Operators” and things went smoothly for them at their first competition. This group of Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) employees competed at the 19th annual Operations Challenge at the recent North Carolina Section of the American Water Works Association and Water Environment Association (NC AWWA-WEA) conference in Raleigh and came in third overall with a second place finish in two out of five events!

“Chris Hill and I were watching the competition last year and saw how those teams used their industry skills,” said Jason Manning, WWTP Superintendent, “and we knew we had the knowledge and talent among our staff to compete at the highest levels. I talked to other GUC departments that compete in the rodeos and heard how it was a catalyst for skill development, increased safety awareness, and teamwork. Chris and I wanted that for our staff as well.” 

So, they put together a team of employees, called themselves the Smooth Operators, and started preparing. Our team included Pump Station Maintenance Crew Leader Corey Mills along with Operators Bryon Orr, Kyle Meeks, Travis Lancaster, and Steve Hedgepeth.

“Jason and I believe we have a staff that is as skilled, if not more skilled, as any other utility in the state,” said Chris Hill, WWTP Operations Coordinator and team coach. “I wanted our Operations and Maintenance staffs to have a chance to work together, which doesn’t happen often since we are responsible for 40 different sites across the country.”

It turned out that GUC only had the supplies and equipment needed to fully practice two of the five events. “Union County was kind enough to invite us down in September for two days of training on the equipment they share with Charlotte Water,” said Chris. “This helped us a lot!”

The October competition in Raleigh included events in collections (pipe tapping), lab, safety, pump maintenance, and process control (WWTP simulator and exam). Our team placed third Overall, second in Collections (pipe tapping), and second in Process Control (simulator & exam). Team members said the competition was intense as well as physically and mentally challenging.

“I’m very proud,” said Bryan Orr, team captain. “This was our first time and with only having a couple of months to practice and prepare, I couldn’t be any prouder of this team. They are a hard-working bunch of guys.”

Although there were four employees competing, there was a much bigger team supporting and encouraging the effort, from management to coworkers,. “I am proud not only of the team, but how co-workers supported them and adjusted shift coverage so the team could practice,” said Jason. “At the Plant, we preach leadership, safety, and accountability. I saw all these attributes grow among our team.” 

Plans are already coming together for the team’s preparation for next year’s competition. Congratulations and good luck next year!