What’s that way up there? Is it a bird? A plane? Superman himself?
It’s a Louisville Water employee!
When most people think about the type of maintenance work we do as a water utility, they tend to think of the field crews who are out each and every day installing new water mains, repairing broken ones or doing other work that happens in the ground on our buried infrastructure. But that is only one facet of our complex operations. Some our work actually takes place high above people’s heads.
Louisville Water operates various water towers across the region. They differ in height but the tallest is 200 feet. Each of towers has a bright aviation light atop them to warn pilots. Those bulbs are proactively replaced each year to ensure they don’t burn out unexpectedly. Other routine maintenance and inspections are done at the same time.
Rather than assigning these unusual and physically demanding tasks to employees, managers ask for volunteers.
Lee Lorimer, Plant Maintenance Mechanic, is one of the men and women who are up for the task.
“Some people want no part of the job,” he says, adding that the job is definitely a conversation starter.
Lorimer says he feels secure because of all the safety equipment and precautions in place, but that’s not to say he still doesn’t get a bit nervous being that high up.
“I do,” he adds, “but you have to have trust in the equipment.”
Michelle Durham, Plant Maintenance Mechanic, admits she is afraid of heights and volunteers for the job in part to help conquer that fear.
She says that some water towers are easier than others to climb because their ladders are enclosed in the riser, meaning you can’t tell how high you are until you reach the very top and climb out a hatch. Others have ladders which are entirely outside.
“On those you just have to stare straight ahead, sing a song to yourself maybe,” says Durham.
And don’t look down, of course.
Employees who climb the towers are rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of the city.
“The views from the top of the tanks are really nice,” says Steve Nalley, Plant Maintenance Mechanic. “It is quite peaceful once you get up there, after you catch your breath from the climb, of course.”
Prior to working for Louisville Water, Nalley was an electrician who sometimes had to climb stadium light poles. As such, he was already used to heights. He says the biggest annoyance is wasps, which are attracted to the water towers during the fall months.
Typically, these maintenance climbs are relatively uneventful. One time, however, a climber ascending the Westport tank had the local police called on him by a driver on the Watterson Expressway. Apparently, someone was either worried he was going to jump or vandalize the tank.
Nalley, Durham, Lorimer and other climbers often take photos from the top of the towers to share the views with others. The photos also serve as a reminder that our plant maintenance mechanics have a variety of duties that many people may not realize.
“People ask me plumbing questions all the time,” says Durham. “That’s not what I do! This job is very much about multitasking. Basically anything that controls anything, we are working on it.”