There are over 15,000 wastewater treatment plants in the US, but there’s only one Dwight Cook. Dwight is the Maintenance Supervisor at the Springfield Wastewater Treatment Plant in Springfield, MO. He keeps the plant operational 24/7 so that the plant can process up to 100 million gallons of water every day.
The implications of Dwight’s work are far reaching, from public health to the global environment. Dwight ensures that the quality of the treated water is held to the highest standard because if something goes wrong, people’s lives are at stake. Dwight enforces very strict protocol to ensure that the discharge water from the plant is as clean as it can be. The water that leaves the plant flows into a losing stream, meaning that the water from the stream can get into the aqueducts and wells – the human water supply. The ripple effect and danger posed as a result of any error are huge.
Since the plant’s elaborate equipment system can’t exactly be shut down and some of the machines are as old as 1959, Dwight’s additional challenge is how to maintain this aging equipment while the plant is entirely operational. In 2010, Dwight and his team were awarded a Platinum Achievement Award for their performance and have maintained that status ever since. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) award Gold Awards to facilities with no violations, and in the fifth consecutive year of Gold Award status, the facility is elevated to Platinum status. Dwight and his team are now in their 13th year of Platinum status, meaning that there are no violations in the plant and haven’t been since 2003.
Dwight Cook, thank you for everything you do. Your drive to be better everyday and disseminate knowledge inspire us all.
How did you get started in maintenance?
I grew up in Missouri and my dad and brothers were all mechanically inclined. My dad worked on boilers and my brothers worked on cars, so I’ve always wanted to follow in their footsteps. My dad paid for my first class at a trade school after high school. Whatever I didn’t learn in the many more trade classes I took I learned under different people at Litton Industries. Litton Industries was bought by Northup Grumman in the end, but I worked as Maintenance Lead until 2004. I was responsible for three different shifts of guys on my team, taking care of equipment downtime and building a preventative maintenance (PM) program at an 80,000 square foot facility.
In 2004, I joined the City of Springfield as a maintenance engineer and used my experience building PM programs at Litton / Northup Grumman to transform the City of Springfield’s maintenance program at the wastewater treatment plant. I was promoted to a Maintenance Supervisor and now I love what I do everyday because of the guys who work under me. I want them to learn and succeed even more than I have. That’s what makes it all worth it – knowing that the younger guys are carrying on the next generation and I get to see them grow and improve at what they’re doing. I want to give them as much training and knowledge as I can so they can do the best job they can. I have to make sure, too, that I’m clear in my expectations and what I need from them. They’re my eyes and ears on the floor, and if I do my best to take care of them, they’ll do a great job at what I need in order to make sure everything is running smoothly.
What is one of your proudest achievements?
I’m proud that I’ve been able to follow in my dad’s and brothers’ footsteps and that I’m able to do the work that I do. I get to learn all the time because it’s not always the same day after day. I have to figure out why things happen too, so I’m constantly analyzing and constantly learning.
What is one thing you wish people knew about your job?
I’ve gotten the comment from someone before when they look at my job, they think it’s really easy to do. They recently got a similar position and told me, “I didn’t think it was going to be so hard.” One of the biggest challenges is managing a team of different personalities where sometimes there can be conflict. Managing conflict on top of trying to do maintenance can be tricky, especially when you have to balance your priorities with the priorities of the guys and the priorities of what people above you think is important.