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Water Heroes – First On-Site, Last to Leave.

Charli's Blog
Charlie’s Angels

Water Heroes – First On-Site, Last to Leave.

Author: Charli K. Matthews

What comes to mind when you hear “First Responders”? Are you visualizing a fire fighter? A police officer? An EMT with an ambulance? These are all first responders – people who are trained to help during a state of emergency. What many people do not realize, however, is that there are everyday heroes that keep us safe as well…let me explain.

Last week, we attended WEFTEC18 where water and wastewater professionals from around the globe came to learn about new technologies, network with peers, and improve their knowledge and skills to be successful in their careers.  As always, the event has so much to offer and so many exhibits to see that I leave feeling like I only scratched the surface.

This year was a different experience for my team.  We started our week with an Empowering Women in Industry meeting.  My goal for this meeting was to meet with our Steering Committee and to introduce them to Charlie’s Angels.  Charlie’s Angels is the first all-women’s team to compete in the Operations Challenge at WEFTEC.

Charlie’s Angels

From Left to Right: Sarah Hickman, Candace Mathis, Charli K. Matthews, Melissa Engle, Morgan Greathouse

When I was told they needed a sponsor to compete, I jumped at the opportunity to support these ladies.  I knew I had the media outlets that would help make this moment in history even more significant… because it would be seen! One of the first things I did was tell the Angels that they would need to get comfortable with me taking a lot of pictures of them because they must tell their story!  What I didn’t expect was the amount of things I learned about the water industry.

In August, I took a trip to South Carolina to see “Charlie” (the 3-story tall defunct methane tank) and The Angels practice for the KSB Maintenance Event.  I watched and took pictures as they unwrapped the pump to be used for the first time. I was in awe of how quickly and efficiently they worked together on the very first run together.  I asked how they knew what to do so quickly, and they explained that there had been a training video.  Still, I was amazed at the way the moved from task to task and almost instinctively knew what to do next as a team.  They also communicated with each other.   This is one of my favorite parts of the #OpsChallenge teams that I have seen in the past.  They shout out the instructions to each other as a check… It is so exciting!

After the practice, I toured the Metro Water Treatment plant and was allowed to see where each of The Angels worked.  I had never been in the lab before, and I got to see Melissa training two of the men in this department.  It was a proud moment for me. I also spoke to Sarah about the things they needed for the event.  They would need hardhats, gloves, safety glasses, and shoes.  I remembered from the practices that Morgan mentioned difficulty in finding fitted gloves that fit her well enough to work efficiently, so the team went to work acquiring the materials they needed (check out if you’re looking for gear sized for women’s heads, hands, and feet!). I told the Angels again to let me know if they needed anything!

Fast forward to end of September when I see them at the Meet & Greet on Saturday before they begin on-site practice.  They were all excited and had support from their family and friends… And the EMPOWERING community!  We began our night giving out Empowering Women in Industry swag, including shirts and silver infinity symbol earrings.  You can see these in some of the photos taken later in the event – that was also a really touching moment for me.  I document things in photographs, and I will forever be connected to The Angels and this moment in history!


The first Operations Challenge event I watched The Angels compete in was the Lab Event.  It was so intense! No yelling. Just focus. There were labeled beakers, color-coded dots, and the tasks at hand involved measuring ammonia into several diluted and undiluted samples, analyzing pH and Alkalinity, and answering questions on an Alkalinity Profiling Worksheet. Knowing this was a special event for Melissa and Sarah, it was one of the most anxious moments I had experienced as a spectator. I think I held my breath most of the time! I was amazed at their concentration and capacity to perform under pressure.

Next was the Safety event… a test for their strength, endurance, and coordination. When I initially inquired about what was involved in the Safety event, the Angels would respond with: “In this event, there is a lot going on!” They were not kidding!! In this event, two of the women had to be above the platform, and two went ‘below’. In this event, they had to test the confined space for hazardous gases. The team had to employ a gas monitor, deploy a manhole guard, and use a winch to descend down into the ‘hole’ to rescue a fallen person (a 110lb. dummy). The harness was placed upon the victim and they were extracted back to the surface while their teammates replaced the check valve (provided by Crispin Valves). The rescue equipment was swiftly put away and the victim was decontaminated, bringing this fast and furious exercise to a close!! Every time I saw these Women come together as a team, my heart filled with pride!

When it came time for the KSB Maintenance Event, I gathered my team and fans to watch this part of the Operations Challenge. As their name was called, we watched them walk proudly over to the event, and the crowd cheered!  It was a highly-anticipated event. The Angels began with hands in the air and passion in their hearts! I have seen this event many times as I have been covering the Pump Maintenance Events since last year (it was also our June issue cover story).  I have seen this event over and over… They started out strong!  Charlie’s Angels got the pump up out of the tank with great speed and no hiccups!  But, when it was time to get the impeller off, something went wrong.

Charlie’s Angels

The Angels knew the impeller was not budging, but they didn’t quit. They worked together to straddle the table and leverage every ounce of muscle in their bodies to work that impeller off the shaft. With determination hard-etched onto their faces and with all of us looking on, biting our lips as they pushed with all their might, we started to grimace with them knowing something was wrong but hoping they weren’t thinking they were the ones at fault. No, they were doing it right, we had seen it done several times before… Not once did the Angels let frustration keep them from their mission, but the Judges eventually intervened. With some reluctance, the Angels backed away to let the Judges inspect. They did not ask for help. They did not quit and throw up their hands in defeat. They worked at it until the Judges realized that it was time to take a closer look. The Judges wrestled and wrangled with that pump and ended up discovering that the threading on the shaft had been completely stripped, likely a result from a previous competition. The impeller was stuck on that shaft and wasn’t going to move unless a hard mallet gave it a good WHACK!! Unable to hold back my feelings any longer, I yelled out, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!” The Angels awaited news from the Judges, who decided to reset the challenge using different equipment. Through it all, they kept calm faces, shook it off, and got back to work!

Later that afternoon, The Angels reset, came back and popped off that impeller in one easy turn! The crowd gave a loud cheer!!!!  This is what I call MENTAL TOUGHNESS! (I have tears as I type this!)

Charlie’s Angels on the #KSBMaintenanceEvent

Posted by Empowering Pumps & Equipment on Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The last competition was the Collections event, which was what The Angels called “their weakest event”.  I went over to them before this and talked to them. Not that I could help them in any way, but what I said was “Just see it cut through. See each step going perfectly!  You got this!”  And they did!

Charlie’s Angels

The biggest crowd of the day had gathered, mostly because other teams had also finished and they were rooting for Charlie’s Angels!  As they began, there was instructions shouted and cheering “You got it! GO! GO! GO!” One of the most powerful moments in this was when Sarah took over the sawing, and she was literally using her whole body with speed and precision right in front of the crowd and her peers!  It was perfection!

The other moment right in front of me was when the whole team was together sealing the hole – they did a great job!  It held the seal and celebrations began!  They KILLED IT!  Pffuhhh! Their “weakest event”… THEY CONQUERED IT!

Next, I watched as they were congratulated and interviewed…it was full of never-ending smiles and pride!  I was very proud to have a small part in this. There was another proud moment I had that I have to tell you about… When they finished the interview, Sarah looked at the team and said, we should also give credit to the other ladies participating in the event.  There are a handful of trailblazers that made this day possible… We honor them for you now, Sarah.

Charlie’s Angels

At the awards event, the Angels received the spirit award best Fan support!  I felt we had done our job as their media sponsor.  They placed 18th overall and had two top 10 finishes.  Pretty great for their first competition!  One of the guys came up to me after the event and said, “Tell The Angels, we will see them next year!”   What a great way to encourage them to keep practicing!

With all this excitement around the Angels, I was equally excited for the other competitors!  I am truly in awe of their skills and I have made an effort to make these water professionals feel like the heroes they are!

Charli gets autographs from the Water Operators who competed in the Operations Challenge.

Back to the first responders and what I have learned from following the Water Wise Pro…. These are the water heroes. They are the first ones on-site and the last to leave.  Do you realize that without clean water, life no longer exists without public works employees willing to work the long hours to ensure your city is prepared to supply your basic needs?  Next time you are running to your car because you forgot your umbrella, think of the men and women who are running to the broken pipe or pump station to repair or maintain it before your drinking water is contaminated or your home is flooded.

These are the unseen heroes that protect you by providing your most basic human need… Water!

I am happy to be one of the sponsors of Jammin4Water, an initiative which provided over $80,000 to water infrastructure projects this year, but we need to help communities understand that investment is needed every day to maintain and optimize our pumping systems. Will you support our water heroes?  Will you vote for more investment? What is your #waterlegacy?

On October 10th, we challenge you to imagine a world without water… Will you participate? #WatersWorthit




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