Rushing water, stinky sewer system clogs, lots of dirt and digging and the need to get the job done quickly.
Those are just a few of the daily requirements of a three-man crew working a dual-role in the city's public works department.
Steve Kelly, who has worked for the city for 14 years, leads the crew, which also includes Codey Dennis, who has been on the job for about a year-and-a-half, and Trent Taylor, a rookie with two months of experience with the department.
Their dual-duties include working with the water and sewer departments simultaneously to keep the water and waste beneath city streets flowing freely. From the less stinky tasks of repairing leaks and water main breaks and installing sewer and water taps to the sloppy, slimy clogged up human waste, grease and debris in the sewer system, it is easy to see that the men's daily grind is essential to maintaining a sanitary city.
But in their effort to keep citizens clean, the men get downright dirty. Dennis said if you're looking for the dirt in their daily work, there is no doubt that the sewer system takes the cake.
"Anything related to the sewer system is definitely dirty," Dennis said.
Nick Williams, director of public works, said repairing water main breaks is a big part of the men's routine, with breaks occurring two to three times a week. In the past week, the men have patched several portions of pipe, including the water main beneath Long Street near the Recreation Center and a break in front of Jake & Dorothy's Cafe on E. Washington Street.
Williams said such repairs come with a fair share of hazards, since most of the work occurs in the right-of-way and in heavily traveled areas. To keep safe, the men never tackle a job without a hard hat, reflector vests and warning signs that remind motorist that there are men at work and the street is closed to through traffic.
"The danger is very real," Williams said.
And the job doesn't always call during regular working hours, which are 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. in the summer and 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. the rest of the year.
"These guys work hard," Williams said. "The work is often in unfavorable, or desirable conditions, such as 104-degree temperatures, pouring rain and even during emergency situations that can occur in the middle of the night or on a weekend or holiday. These guys don't get enough credit for always getting the job done and getting it done efficiently."
Williams also said a few small leaks can quickly add up to one big problem for the city if the issues are not immediately handled. In the case of a water main break in the middle of summer, the city can't risk the danger of leaving citizens without water for an extended period of time.
"They are dealing with immediate needs that directly impact residents' quality of life," Williams said.
At the Long Street break, near the intersection of Belknap Street last week, the men were busy at work in temperatures that topped the century mark. Despite the scorching heat, Dennis dived into the opportunity to be knee-deep in spewing water inside a hole surrounded by dirt, rocks and sweltering asphalt. He said the labor-intesenvie repair offered an escape from the Texas heat.
"The water is about 70 degrees, but on a 100-degree day, it feels like 30," Dennis said, adding that he jumps at the chance to beat the heat.
But heat is not all Mother Nature has in store for the men. Dennis said he prefers toiling in the summer months since wintery weather means being drenched in cold temperatures, with no escape.
"In the winter, it is really hard to stay warm," Dennis said.
Hot or cold, rain or shine, sleet or snow, the job must be done with no excuses or whining in inclement weather.
"There is no doubt you have to love being outside no matter the (weather) conditions," Dennis said.
Taylor, the rookie, said he is also accustomed to everything Mother Nature has in store. He said growing up in Comanche County, he was raised in a farming and ranching environment, so signing on with the city at the start of the summer was no big deal.
"I have always worked outside, I'm used to it," Taylor said.
In his short time on the job, Taylor said Kelly and Dennis have shown him the ropes and said his newbie status doesn't mean he is the one taking the brunt of the dirty work. He said his coworkers don't stick him with all the digging and sewer repairs just because he is the low man on the totem pole.
"When I first started, I thought I would get stuck with the the dirtiest, toughest jobs," Taylor said. "But we are a three-man crew and put in an equal effort."
On Thursday, the crew was working to install sewer and water lines and taps at the future sight of a new duplex on Barker Street. Williams said the new multi-family residence means two times the work for the city. He said due to the fact that the duplex could one day be sold to two separate buyers, they each need their own connections.
The Barker Street job started Wednesday afternoon when the men used a monster saw to cut away the asphalt to tap into the city's systems. Kelly said the saw makes the work a lot easier but can only be used when the men know exactly where the water main is located, otherwise, the search is more labor-intensive and means digging up a larger area to locate the line.
"Once we have located the line, we can use the saw to make a nice clean, pretty cut," Kelly said. "Then, once we are done with the installation, the street guys can come in and make a quick, clean repair to the roadway."
When it comes to new installations, Williams said in addition to providing connections to new residences and businesses, the men are also responsible for installing new works at existing structures when needed. He said some of the city's older developments are served by a one-inch line, which cannot handle the sewer and water load needed when more customers come on board.
"We have to upgrade those sites to a larger line that can handle the volume that the customers in the area require," Williams said.
They spend a good part of their day knee-deep in water and have the job of digging up some of the stickiest sewer clogs in the city, and for their effort the Empire-Tribune gives two thumbs up to them and their dirty work!
"We are proud of what we do and the jobs we have," Kelly said. "It may be back-breaking a lot of days, but we get good benefits and steady, honest work."