Oklahoma Environmental Services
Chris Cooper is an Environmental Specialist working in our field division at OES. Cooper currently lives in Moore with his fantastic wife and a couple of rapscallion daughters. Before graduating with a BA from OSU, he spent some time working on his English degree in England, because that just seemed like the place to do that. He’s a commercially licensed driver, driller, UST remover, among a litany of other licenses, as well as writing for the company newsletter. A real renaissance man.
Sampling water is a simple sounding job that can be deceptively complicated. When things are going well, everything’s fine. Things are as they should be. But when things go wrong, it can be frustrating trying to explain how you messed up putting water into a jar. Because at its most basic essence, that’s what my job is. I put water in jars. Which sounds like any warm body or well behaved monkey could do. But since I do it, I’m here to make the case that there are actually a surprising number of necessary traits of character to make a quality filler of jars. And I’m going to do it as a listicle!
- Technical Prowess- One does not simply put water into the jar. There are readings to be taken using thousands of dollars worth of water quality devices. And how do you get the water into those devices? With thousands of dollars worth of pumps of course. All of which need to be known how to properly operate, how to maintain, and, when they inevitably break, how to troubleshoot in a field over a lackluster cell phone connection to some guys in Kansas. A quality tech makes the effort to acquire the knowledge necessary to keep the job moving forward, and to get it back on track when it falters.
- Perseverance – Not everything goes as it’s supposed to. We arrive on site to sample a well and there’s a truck parked over it, a locked gate that was supposed to be left open, or nine foot tall vegetation blocking the path and obscuring the next location. Well under, over, or through, we’re getting the sample. A quality tech exhausts all options to make it happen, and fosters a refusal to be bested by circumstance. Which leads me to the next trait….
- Ingenuity- “It cannot be done,” I say. “It has to be done,” you say. To which I reply “…..Well I guess I’ll go figure it out then.” A tech of substance is able to adapt to the situation and improvise a solution to overcome hardships in the field. Something necessary is missing or broken? Fabricate a replacement or use lateral thinking to work it out of the picture entirely. When life hands you a lemon, throw a lemon curveball back at its head. Life won’t be expecting that. A quality tech uses a combination of know-how and cleverness to succeed in situations that otherwise seem hopeless.
- Consistency- Repeatable, high-caliber results, every time. A quality tech is meticulous and diligent in their sampling and record keeping, which isn’t easy when it’s 98° or 10° outside. Nonetheless, they deliver dependable, unfailing results.
- Honesty- Potentially above all else, a quality tech is trustworthy. A great deal of faith is placed in us, and a quality tech respects that trust. In instances where mistakes are made, they’re owned up to, corrected, and learned from.
Despite being a simple sounding task, there’s actually a great deal of nuance to sampling properly. And we don’t just sample properly, we sample exceptionally. And that elite level of performance requires an individual of great skill, strong will, cleverness, reliability, and truthfulness. So to my fellow techs I say take pride in your work. We put water into jars, but we do it very, very well.
Oklahoma Environmental Services, Inc
It’s that time of year again when the sun tries desperately to impress us with how hot it can make stuff. We get it, you’re a giant ball of flaming plasma. Settle down. Anyways, I’d like to take a moment to discuss what it’s like to be stuck in it all day every day, as well as how the season emphasizes the importance of the core value of Accountability.
Working outside in July and August makes you rethink every choice you’ve ever made in your life that’s led to that specific moment. You start early to beat the worst of the heat, wear sunscreen, big hats, and long sleeves, take breaks, drink fluids, and you’re still absolutely spent by the end of it. The sky tries to melt you, and your brain don’t work good, and you just want to lay down in the shade and sleep because you have a million years of self-preservation built into your DNA telling you that if you move around in the heat too much you’re gonna die. Nevertheless you persist, carrying on through the day in a half trudge half crawl towards the completion of the task.
It’s in these broiling times that the core value of accountability becomes so particularly necessary for every team member to practice. Not only does the heat fry your brain, but it’s a huge distraction as well, because all you’re thinking about is how friggin’ hot it is. So when we as individuals falter, it’s up to the group as a whole to pick up the slack.
Be accountable for the well-being of the team. Be responsible for yourself, but also for those around you. When the heat shuts your brain off, it can be easy for individuals to push past their healthy threshold into overexertion. Watch for people dragging and falling behind and stop them before it becomes a problem. Sometimes people need these things brought to their own attention.
Be accountable for the job. Mistakes are more common as the heat causes your brain to misfire, and those mistakes will need to be fixed. Nothing is more demoralizing than repeating work you’ve already done when it’s 94 degrees out. Be actively engaged and if you see something going wrong, say something before it turns into a problem. Don’t assume that someone else is taking care of the problem, or even notices it for that matter. Be accountable for the success of the team.
Group accountability is necessary year-round, but we lean heavily on it in rough weather and tough times. By making oneself accountable and actively engaging in the team’s well-being and the accomplishment of the goal, we remain unbowed, unbent, unbroken by that pompous sky fireball and march onward towards success.
The downside to writing a monthly newsletter is sometimes you have something you think is worth saying, but by the time the end of the month rolls around, it’s been said at least four times by three different people. Case in point, the case closure in Cherokee. I think I’ve received at least two emails telling us what a great job we did, plus I believe it was brought up during a PM meeting, and some photos and praise were also featured in this very same newsletter I’m writing for right now. Well I hope everyone’s excited to hear me beat a dead horse, because I’m gonna. In my defense though, this was a particularly well oiled, proficiently accomplished horse that highlights individuals’ talents, as well as folks’ ability to work as a team, and I think it bears rebeating. So let’s start doling out praise (alphabetically).
Addison was kind enough to give me a day to remember the controls before stepping in on day two to learn them, and he’s probably better than me now. Him and Lake also stopped to assist me changing a tire when I had a blowout on the way out to Cherokee, despite me telling them not to worry about it.
One of the biggest downfalls of the Diedrich is squaring up on a well. Sometimes it takes longer to line up the rig than it does to plug the well, but halfway through day one Brant had mind melded with me and despite my subpar backing, was guiding me right on target every time. Sounds like a little thing, but it’s instrumental in keeping the operation rolling. Brant also gets a gold star for putting up with my indecisiveness on taking or dropping my trailer. Hayley fielded questions from randomly appearing landowners, carried chunks of concrete pads out of yards, plugged wells, and hung around the entire time. When the roll off didn’t show up on day one, she immediately got it figured out. She put a lot of work in and it was appreciated. Lake took like a duck to water. He was helpful anywhere he could be, and standing somewhere around six foot thirteen, I suspect may have been instrumental in pulling the pvc from landowners’ backyards by hand. Mike was there early on day one digging for missing wells. He got us lined out and oriented straight away so we could start plugging about as soon as we arrived. Rob. Not even assigned to the job, still helpful. Helped Brant tarp up our trailers before we left the shop. Rob also had his own drill job to do, but when I called him on day one asking for parts that he had that we could use, he sent them our way. Tyler got the Diedrich topped off and made sure it was operating beforehand, as well as making sure equipment and supplies were loaded. Ended up running us parts on day two and getting a tire repaired for us while he was out our way. And with contributions acknowledged, I’d like to point out the most important thing of all: I had a good time being around all these people. That may sound small, but it goes a long way. It makes hot days not so hot and long days not so long. They’re dope individuals who have a genuine interest in lessening the burden on others, and when you work with people who care it doesn’t feel like such a drudge. Everybody worked in unison to make what could have been a chore of a job a success, and keeping with the spirit of celebrating successes, well done everybody. Woo.
It is my intent to draw attention to the daily work life of techs and highlight some aspects that could easily be
overlooked by folks who don’t venture outdoors professionally. I’d like to briefly discuss a hazard that doesn’t often get brought up, but that techs nonetheless deal with on the regular, and help make indoors men privy to it.
We techs spend a decent amount of time in parking lots, but we’re also known to get sent traipsing through the woods on occasion. As such, one of the most wildly irritating menaces you might not consider is poison ivy.
Poison ivy: I know exactly what it looks like, and I’ve actively been watching for it every time I’ve caught it. I’ve personally picked up a debilitating case of it three times working for OES, but none as bad as Addison. Addison, to my knowledge, is the reigning king of poison ivy. Hail to the chief.
Speaking from personal experience, the worst part isn’t the unrelenting itch, it’s the blister creep. Over the course of several days, the blisters slowly migrate from their initial spot, fanning out across your legs, arms, and face if you’re lucky.
A lot of people think it’s the blister fluid that spreads the rash, but it’s actually the residual plant oil left over on surfaces you’ve touched before you realized you’d been infected. So, you’ll hunt for the oil remnants on tools and in your cab trying to wipe it clean, but you won’t find it, and the creep continues until you’re more rash than human and all you can do is paint yourself pink with calamine and look back fondly on less itchy times.
There is good news, however. Repeat exposure to the poison ivy CAN result in sensitization and a lifelong allergy, leading to increasingly severe reactions. So technically, as long as we techs are sent out into the woods, we’ll never have our WORST case of poison ivy, because our NEXT time will always be our worst! Silver linings.
Hopefully, this piece has been illuminating to some of the less glamorous aspects of tech life, and maybe semi entertaining.