PLANT CITY — There's nothing glamorous about the work done by Steve Saffels and the nearly 20 city employees who work under his supervision.
They are the ones who make sure water flows each time a Plant City customer turns on the tap. And they also ensure that what's in the toilet goes to the proper place with each flush.
It's the kind of work that doesn't get a lot of attention as long as everything's flowing as it should.
But their work hasn't gone totally unnoticed.
The city utilities maintenance department and its employees have won at least four statewide awards for outstanding service in recent years.
City Commissioner Bill Dodson said he likes seeing the department bringing home awards. “I'm pretty proud of them,” he said.
Utilities Director Frank Coughenour said the honors haven't come easy.
It's good old-fashioned hard work and dedication to their jobs,” Coughenour said.
Saffels, utilities operations superintendent, won the most recent meritorious service award from the American Water Works Association.
It's just one of the plaques on the wall at the utilitiy plant's offices at 1500 W. Victoria St.
With 41 years of experience, Saffels is one of the longest-tenured employees on the city payroll. He worked his way up from lab technician to his current job.
He was nominated by chief plant operator Patrick Murphy, who won an award of his own two years ago.
“It's not just about length of service, it's about the quality of service. They look at your entire operation,” Murphy said.
The city's sewer treatment plant south of Interstate 4 opened in 1926. It's been rebuilt and expanded several times at a cost of millions of dollars, to the point that the plant bears little to no resemblance to the early facility.
Today's sewer treatment plant processes an average 4 million gallons of wastewater per day and cleanses it enough that it can be used for irrigation or industrial purposes. The reclaimed water flows to such major customers as the Mosaic phosphate plant north of the city.
The utilities department also pipes 5 million gallons of drinking water in the average day from three water towers and a ground level storage tank spread around town.
Saffels said technology plays a much greater role in operating the city's utilities than ever before. A computerized module monitors the systems and displays their status — and any problems — on a screen, 24 hours a day.
“It used to be you'd drive around on a regular basis and look at it to make sure it was all running smoothly. It (the computerized system) is a great tool that saves us a lot of time,” he said.
Saffels gives his staff the kudos for the accolades his department has received in recent years.
“We have a totally professional staff here,” he said. “Everybody is concerned about doing a good job. They are the ones who deserve the credit.”