Unsung Heroes: Employees help keep water flowing, heat on and children safe

They’re not police officers, rescue workers or firefighters, but, usually behind the scenes and often after hours, they work to keep life running smoothly in Chesterfield.

Wilbert Boyd, Jr., a senior labor crew chief in the water distribution’s operations and maintenance section, helps maintain Chesterfield County’s water system. He’s been with the county 13 years.

A routine day begins with him distributing the day’s work assignments to his crews, he said, but a day that begins typically doesn’t necessarily end that way. He’s been called out for emergency repairs hundreds of times, he said.

“If you get a week to go by that you didn’t get called, that’s a good week,” he said. Maintaining the water system is a round-the-clock endeavor, and he’s worked through the night on repairs. Boyd’s kept at the job for a number of reasons, including his enjoyment of hands-on work, he said.

“I’m a county resident also, so the fulfillment is just ensuring that public water is safe for drinkers,” and ensuring that it reaches residents, he said. “It is the challenge and importance of what we do. It’s something new and different every day.”

John West, the lead technician in Chesterfield County’s HVAC shop, said his team is responsible for all the heating and cooling systems in nearly 70 county buildings, including police and fire stations. The team is also called out to deal with fire alarms, sprinkler systems and some plumbing issues, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning, he said.

“We’ve been called out quite a few times at night,” he said, and the work gets “pretty involved.” The electrical shop, which, along with the HVAC shop, is part of the buildings and grounds department, is also on call all the time, he said.

“Usually, we get hit with the temperature calls,” he said. “My responsibility is to make sure all the repairs are done in a timely manner.”

The team tends to work somewhat under the radar until a problem with an HVAC system arises, he said.

“It’s like an old saying, you know you’re doing your job right if they haven’t seen you in a while,” he said. “And, a lot of times, they don’t see us.”

And the work itself can be treacherous, he said. The HVAC units are often outside and sometimes on roofs, so, if the problem arises at night, lights have to be brought out to illuminate the area, he said.

“Especially if it’s in the middle of winter, say 0 degrees outside,” he said. Sometimes, he’s worked through the night and come straight in for his shift the following morning, he said. “Of course, last year we had snow, so we actually spent the weekend here at the county.”

Though the work can be hard and the hours long, West, who’s done HVAC work for nearly 30 years, can’t imagine doing anything else.

“It’s all a matter of taking pride in what you do and a lot of this job is based on self satisfaction,” he said. “You really do make a difference to people’s lives out here.”

Though “a lot of times people don’t put us with the police department or fire department,” he said, his shop supports the people who provide those services.

West’s shop isn’t without its own support system. Buildings and Grounds Superintendent Clyde Carwile, Assistant Superintendent Earl Kirby and Building Equipment Supervisor David Jewell make sure technicians have the tools they need to do their jobs safely, he said.

West also noted the good work of Electrical Supervisor Pete Troxell and Jim Poff. Poff, the facilities maintenance supervisor for the courts system, handles problems at the county’s court buildings “24/7,” West said.

James Bryant, a senior child protective services social worker with the Chesterfield-Colonial Heights Department of Social Services, also knows a thing or two about having his workday change at the drop of a hat. Bryant said there’s no such thing as a typical day in his job.

“The work pace is very unpredictable,” he said. “The work pace is sometimes frantic. … For us, no two cases are really ever alike.”

Brielle Miller, a child protective services social worker, agreed that the pace of a given day depends on the calls that come in.

“Even if we have a game plan for a day, it might quickly change based on the needs of the community,” she said. Social workers also have a rotating schedule that includes time on call, she said.

The calls that come in are generally passed to Bryant, who’s been in child protective services since the late 1980s, for screening, he said, and if they’re valid they’re assigned to a social worker at that point. If it’s something the office can’t handle, “we provide guidance,” he said.

“What we continue to see is the complexity of the situations,” he said. Sometimes substance abuse is involved, he said, or the family has relocated away from its extended family and support system.

Often, he said, people aren’t aware of resources that might be of assistance. The agency’s primarily goal is to connect families with services in the community and provide them with education, Miller said.

“My personal philosophy was always to try to leave a family better than when I found them,” Bryant said. “It is a very difficult job. … You see many shocking and, unfortunately, tragic situations.”

Both Bryant and Miller agree it takes a special kind of person to do the job.

“One of the things that we do is we go knock on the doors of strangers,” Bryant said. “If you ask me, probably the most surprising thing is that people allow us into their homes.”

“I think you have to be patient,” Miller said. “I think you have to be caring and understanding.”

Often, families cooperate with social workers, Bryant said, and he wonders if on some levels families know that something is wrong. Social workers “meet some wonderful people who often times are in bad situations,” he said.

“It’s very rewarding when you’re able to step in and provide assistance,” he said.

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