Tag Archives: chief

Water Week Spotlight: Matt Girard, Hydrant Crew Chief

You pass by dozens of them a day and probably don’t think twice. Hydrants are all over our city, and some have even been here for over 100 years! This piece of infrastructure is another critical component to water access in our community. Matt Girard, Hydrant Crew Chief, shares with us some of the important work they do each day.

Zone 3 hydrant crew, Matt Girard (right) and Mike Puckett (left)

Matt Girard and Mike Puckett begin their day at our Zone 3 location where they receive their assignments for the day. Depending on the hydrant work that needs to be done, they will work on anywhere from four to eight hydrants in a single day. Matt has been in his role for over 23 years, and Mike recently transitioned within Charlotte Water to work on the hydrant crew just a couple of months ago, so he has quite the wealth of knowledge with Matt as his trainer in this role! Hydrant crews only have two staff members per crew, and one crew for each of our zones. Back in the day, there was only one crew assigned for the entire service area!

Hydrant crews handle all hydrant maintenance, repairs, and painting of hydrants. Hydrants are made out of cast iron, and if taken care of properly, they can last up to 100 years! The oldest hydrant Matt has come across was located in Uptown Charlotte from the year 1887. If you stop and notice, hydrants will have the year they were installed indicated on them. If the hydrant is older than 1930, then you won’t see the date listed on the side.

On this particular day, Matt and Mike start their day on a hydrant repair out in the Matthews area. For this particular repair, the hydrant was leaking, so they were there to determine the cause. To begin, they had to shut off the nearby water valve and take it apart to investigate further. In order to do this they needed to take the stem of the hydrant out to see the bottom of it, to determine the issue.

It is quite the manual and labor intensive process to take apart the hydrant. First they must remove the top of the hydrant completely with a socket and impact wrench so they can access the stem and remove it. Then they use hydraulics instead of a manual wrench to remove the stem.

Once the stem is removed completely, they are able to see the cause of the leak. Matt explains that the valve was not shutting off properly due to damage to the rubber valve at the bottom. This damage was likely caused by debris that was not flushed out properly and caused wear and tear on the rubber valve.

Matt pointing to the cause of the leak – the rubber valve, which acts as a seal, has been damaged

Matt and Mike take the stem and valve back to their truck to remove and replace the main valve. The main valve acts as a seal to shut the hydrant off when it is use. Since it is made of just rubber, it can be damaged over time if not flushed properly.

After the rubber valve has been replaced and sealed, the stem is put back into the hydrant.

When putting the stem back in, they slowly turn water valve back on to help seal it into place. This process helps to push all of the air out and seal it. When they start to see the water, they will pull it up manually to seal it, turn it one more time to keep it in place, put the top back on, then attach the hose and turn the water valve up all the way and push out any remaining air.

After that is complete, the final step is to let the hydrant drain for about five minutes, while they clean up and put any materials back in the truck. Then they seal it up and paint the hydrant if needed, then on to the next one!

Thank you to Matt and Mike for letting us follow along with your day, and thank you for all that you and the hydrant crews do to keep our hydrants working properly throughout the community!

We hope you have enjoyed following along all week and learning more about a “day in the life” of some of our staff members during National Drinking Water Week!

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A Day in the Life: Large Meter Repair Crew Chief

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Large Meter Work Scene.

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.

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Bobby Sloan taking a reading from the large water meter.

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.

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Inside look

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…

Water Gif

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.

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The Water Key

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.

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Beginning the search for the meter box

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.

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Searching for the meter box

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.

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Meter box finally found

We approach the top of the meter box and open it up. We are finally done… except there is one more surprise left.

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Filled meter box.

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. Version 2

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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.

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Pump in action.

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.

Spray Gif.gif

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!

For more stories on other Charlotte Water employees, stay up to date with us on our blog and other social media accounts!