Story of a… Wastewater Worker
Daron Johnson leads a crew that takes on one of Orlando’s dirtiest and most necessary jobs.
From sea to shining sewers. A Liberty City native, Johnson served 10 years in the U.S. Navy before launching his career with the City of Orlando 21 years ago. “I was a boiler technician, which is what got me into industrial mechanics. That’s what got me interested in pumps and valves.”
Pass the bleach. Johnson, who is over the city’s wastewater collections system, also leads the Stopped Sewer Crew. His advice if you have a sewage backup: Don’t remove the cap of your lateral sewer line. “It’s a big no-no. You’re harming the environment. It’s better to let it back up into your house, actually, than into the environment, because it’s contained.”
Super Toilet Bowl Sunday. Super Bowl Sunday can be a rush—especially on the sewer system at halftime. “When I was at the plant, you could really see the flow increase.”
Grease is the word. “Thanksgiving is another bad day for the sewer system because a lot of people are pouring their grease down the drain, especially with people using all these turkey fryers now. We have a recycling program here. Residents can come get a bottle for their grease before Thanksgiving.”
Don’t believe every label you read. “Baby wipes are terrible. They grab on to each other and form blobs [in the sewers].
I know it says on the package that they’re biodegradable, but they’re not. They shouldn’t be flushed.”
The benefits of bladders. Technology has simplified repair techniques over the course of Johnson’s career. “You can slide a bladder [an inflatable liner] inside a pipe and blow it up, allow it to cure or dry and pull it out. That’s the pipe repair.”
It can be deadly down there. Methane gas and drowning are just two of the dangers sewer workers face. Crews carry gas meters to test for the presence of methane. To prevent drowning, lines are isolated, flows are diverted and vacuum trucks remain on standby when workers are underground. However, “dangers still exist. It’s a lot more dangerous than people think.”
Don’t forget to wear gloves. “When we bring our trucks in for the afternoon, you’ll see quite a few of the guys wanting to clean the dump pad, and it’s filthy too. Sometimes, they find gold, money, jewelry and rings.”
Waste not. Johnson used to lecture his daughters, who are now grown, about the wastefulness of letting water “run and run and run. Turn the water off while you’re brushing your teeth,” he says. “I heard this lady the other day complaining about how much organic food costs, and the doctor said, ‘You can either pay now or pay later by going to the doctor and getting medication, or you can eat right and eat healthy now.’ It’s the same premise. We either take care of [our water resources] now, or we’re going to pay later.”
Somebody’s gotta do it. “Some people don’t have the desire to be an astronaut or a doctor. Some people are content—like myself—being a blue-collar worker. It’s an honest living.”