Summer intern Jake Dube is on a quest. Join him as he shadows Charlotte Water staff to learn about all the different things that Charlotte Water staff do in the community.
Charlotte Water has 912 employees. I am going to work alongside as many as I can to learn as much as I can about the utility. Last week, I had the pleasure of shadowing Bobby Sloan, Large Meter Repair Crew Chief, on my first ride-along of the summer.
His day begins early. Bobby doesn’t mind, he is an early bird and wakes up around 3:45 a.m. He doesn’t need much, a walk in the crisp morning air and a cup o’ joe. He knocks out office work before we meet. I arrive and grab our gear and head to the truck.
In addition to working out in the field, Crew Chiefs coordinate and dispatch staff to various jobs each day. When I get into the truck, Bobby looks over his ToughBook and examines the list of jobs for the day. He chooses his service request to respond to and starts the truck.
Bobby is a detective. He investigates strange water bills. The first service job we are heading to is for a low water bill. We arrive at the apartment complex and find the water meter box.
Bobby uses his tool to open the meter box and begins to run a test. He makes sure that the device registers the same number found on the meter.
The meter is registering the same numbers the scanner is. Bobby looks up briefly to ponder the problem in front of him. In what feels like no time at all I see the light bulb turn on. Bobby knew exactly what to do next.
He comes back from the truck holding a water key. He takes the key, sticks it down around a bolt and turns…
With water running, it confirms that the meter was working properly. Bobby deals exclusively with the meter. Anything past the meter box is not his expertise. The large meter was working, and water was registering. The apartment complex may not use much water, or there is an issue elsewhere in the system. This means that this ticket will stay open and someone else will come back to further investigate the problem.
This is how most days go. Find the job, look at the meter, and solve the problem.
Everything is running smoothly before the last meter of the day…
Bobby is responding to a request to locate a meter. Charlotte Water staff went out to check the meter but could not find it. That was now our job.
Bobby pulls out his phone and opens up a city app that shows all the water and sewer mains, manholes, and meters in Charlotte. We see that there is a meter box down the street. We orientate ourselves and get walking.
Bobby is carrying a prod, this tool is used to poke the ground. Sometimes the meter box is covered in overgrowth. Bobby suspects this is the reason the crew couldn’t find the meter. We walk down the street to the spot on the app. With no meter box immediately in sight, we begin looking around the surrounding area.
Bobby works his way around some large trees and starts poking around. We come up with nothing. Bobby looks at me with a small smirk on his face. Just like he has done all day, he gets an idea. We go back to the truck to use a trick of the trade.
He opens Google Maps on his phone. He taps the button for street view and drags the slider to 2011. We are looking at the same street, but not as overgrown. He is looking for blue spray paint on the side of the road; a mark used by staff to identify water meters on the street. Though this is neat, we still can’t find the meter box.
Not being discouraged, Bobby grabs his ToughBook to do some investigating. He looks up the history of this meter box and found the last person to service it. The name reads Frank; he smiles and says “Watch this”. Frank is on Bobby’s team and must be one of the most organized people I have ever met. He calls Frank, who opens his excel spreadsheet noting every meter he has serviced. Frank laughs as he had to find this meter. He directs us down the block, around the corner. We follow his directions and find the spot.
Problem solved right? We finally found it…ish. We look up from the blue marking on the street to find weeds 5 feet tall.
Bobby gets out of the truck and grabs his tools.
After a few minutes, he cuts his way to the meter box, sticks his shovel in the ground, and catches his breath.
We approach the top of the meter box and open it up. We are finally done… except there is one more surprise left.
The meter box is filled with water. Bobby explains that this is common in low lying areas.
As I stand there wondering how in the world we could solve this, Bobby goes to work. In his truck, he starts pulling tools out and he hooks something into his truck battery. It is a portable pump.
He takes the pump and places it down into the meter box. With a flip of a switch, the water comes pumping out.
After a minute, the meter box is clear of water. Bobby checks to see if the meter is working correctly. Before we leave, he sprays blue spray paint to help the next crew member find the box.
As we are driving back to the office, I thank Bobby for letting me tag along. I started out my day as a novice and now I know so much about large meters.
At the end of the day, one thing was clear. Bobby wants the best for the customers of Charlotte Water. He makes sure that they have access to water 24.7 and that the meter is working properly. He is an incredible guy and a fountain of knowledge. I had a wonderful day riding around with him. Thanks again, Bobby!
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