Charles Scott couldn’t believe how fast a Water Operations tech arrived at his home after calling OUC Monday morning (April 5) to report a water leak. Only an hour later, Zach Giamatt pulled up in an OUC Ford F450 trouble truck and went to work replacing a worn-out washer in the water meter connection.
“He got here before someone from OUC called to tell me he was on his way,” says Scott, who stood 15 feet away as Giamatt pumped out water from the meter box. “That’s pretty impressive.”
Under “normal” circumstances, Scott might have had to wait longer for a tech to arrive. But water trouble calls have fallen off dramatically since the coronavirus crisis disrupted everyone’s normal routines. Life is dramtically different.
“I used to do seven to nine service calls a day,” says Giamatt. “Now I’m doing two or three. I can’t wait for my life to get back to normal, to be able to sit down at a restaurant again. I can’t wait for this thing to end.”
Todd Jernigan, Manager of Water Maintenance and Operations, can’t either. This whole social distancing thing is crimping his management style, not to mention his work-from-home arrangements.
“I’m very old school when it comes to business,” says Jernigan. “I like that personal interaction. I want to shake their hand and look them in the eye. Now I do not have that ability anymore. It’s definitely taken me out of my comfort zone. I just used Skype video for the first time ever the other day.”
Jernigan is mostly working from a 40-foot camper parked on his parents’ property in Ocoee. With him are his wife, Amy, a schoolteacher who’s also working remotely, and their large Dutch shepherd, Shyla. This living situation was borne out of necessity when the Jernigans put their Winter Garden home up for sale.
“It’s really hard to show a home when there’s a big dog in it,” he says.
Like so many other OUC teams, Water Maintenance and Operations has had to change how it works and interacts with customers. Jernigan has directed his crews to keep their distance from each other and customers. He has staggered work schedules, told crews to work from their trucks and not to come into the office, and he had Bluetooth printers installed on two backflow trucks so techs could print testing reports on site.
“We bought hand wipes, disinfectant cleaners and antimicrobial soap for our crews,” he says. “We’ve added water kegs on trucks for hand washing. We are proactively going out and making sure their needs are being met. ”
Giamatt confirms this, saying Michael McGregor, Supervisor of Water Operations, checks in with crews every workday.
“He calls to see how we’re doing and asks if everyone feels OK. He reminds us to stay safe,” says Giamatt.
While the new way of doing things may pose some inconveniences, it hasn’t stopped Water Maintenance and Operations teams from getting their jobs done as expected. In fact, Jernigan says the three-member team tasked with the annual audits of 11,000 fire hydrants and 5,000 valves is ahead of schedule.
“It is imperative that we work to develop strategies in order to uphold the integrity of our organization and guarantee the reliability our customers are used to,” says Jernigan.