Park Ridge’s ‘main’ man: Sewers flush with fascinating finds
NAME: Ron Brubaker
BEST KNOWN AS: Park Ridge water and sewer supervisor
Updated: July 1, 2012 11:30AM
Ron Brubaker spends a lot of time exploring a part of the city most people don’t see — and probably don’t want to.
The underground sewer system.
Brubaker is supervisor of the Park Ridge Public Works Department’s Water and Sewer Division and these days his crew is busy cleaning out storm-sewer drains and the city’s main sewer lines to ensure they are clear of debris in the event of heavy rainstorms.
Clearing the sewer lines can lead to some interesting finds.
“Throughout the year we’ll find a lot of rings, clothes, necklaces, purses,” Brubaker, a 22-year employee, said. “Sometimes the kids will throw some of these things down; sometimes people will accidentally flush them.”
There’s also been the occasional diamond ring that turns up. But never anything out of a comic book or an episode of “Law and Order: SVU.”
“No Ninja Turtles or anything like that,” Brubaker said. “And no bodies.”
A sewer-flushing vactor truck, purchased by the city in 2010, aids the Water and Sewer Division in cleaning out sewer lines using high-pressure water and a vacuum component. But Brubaker says a lack of personnel hinders just how much flushing can take place. When the vactor-truck proposal initially went before the City Council it included a plan to hire two employees to man it, but no additional workers were brought on board.
“There are some days, due to lack of manpower, that I can’t put that machine on the street,” Brubaker said.
A short, warmer-than-normal winter gave the crew an early start on sewer flushing, as well as replacing a number of catch basins, storm-drain inlets and sewer manholes on city streets that have been resurfaced or are in the process of resurfacing.
“A mild winter did give us a huge start on that stuff, along with our sewer-flushing program,” Brubaker said.
Warmer temperatures also meant fewer water-main breaks this winter. Though the department averages about 50 per year, roughly 15 occurred during the past winter.
The Water and Sewer Division’s other duties include working with Joint Utility Locating Information for Excavators (JULIE) to locate water and sewer lines before any contractor begins a dig; testing all of the city’s water valves to make sure they are working properly and not leaking; replacing fire hydrants; lining sewers; and replacing residential and commercial water meters.
“We have roughly 900-something water meters that need to be changed out,” Brubaker said, explaining that the meters are replaced on a 20-year cycle and residents are notified when their meter is scheduled to be changed.
Public Works employees will not be involved in a multimillion-dollar sewer-replacement program beginning this year — a separate company will handle that — but Brubaker believes the work will greatly benefit the city.
“It will alleviate a lot of the flooding issues we have in our combination sewers that currently exist,” he said.
A combination sewer system accepts both sewage and stormwater, and sometimes the sewers become overwhelmed during heavy rains, Brubaker explained.
Brubaker said one of his biggest challenges involves what he sees as a lack of available manpower within the department.
“It’s kind of hard, especially in the summer months when vacation season starts. Out of my 10 guys, I might have four off. That leaves me six guys to get these jobs done,” he said. “Sometimes I have to play Houdini, be a magician to get these things done.”