Everyday Hero of COVID-19: Craig Falcone
Everyday Hero: Craig Falcone, Waterford Wastewater Treatment supervisor
Pete Dougherty May 9, 2020
Updated: May 9, 2020 9:19 a.m.
On the list of Capital District tourist attractions, a wastewater company probably isn't near the top.
“Even when the pandemic’s not happening,” said Craig Falcone, plant operator of Waterford Wastewater Treatment, “nobody’s like, ‘Hey, can we come and see what’s going on?’ ”
With New York State stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic, the work put in by Falcone and his four co-workers has become much more essential.
“Everything that everybody used to do at work, they now do at home,” said Jim Boudreau, a Waterford councilman and liaison to the department. “We’ve been through a lot of waste product, a lot of waste product, especially in the white material, that are listed as flushable.”
That has been particularly true during these abnormal times, when most of the state's population is sequestered at home.
“Every day we notice that our (water) flows are higher, even when it’s sunny, just because everybody’s home and everybody’s going to the bathroom and washing more stuff,” Falcone said.
The issue that Waterford and other municipalities are facing is that citizens aren't limiting themselves to toilet tissue and bodily waste when it come to flushing. That's where Falcone and his crew have been kept busy during these days of quarantine.
Falcone has shifted the hours of some of his workers to make sure his plant continues to run smoothly. He said he and his crew are cleaning pump stations more than twice as often as normal.
“It’s been a country-wide problem for years,” he said. "You had these flushable cleaning things, people just flush it because it says it’s flushable. Yes, it’s flushable, it’s just not biodegradable. It doesn’t break down. Toilet paper breaks down really quick. Paper towels don’t break down. They still come in.
“I have buckets and buckets and buckets just from this week — we use five-gallon pails, that’s how we move the stuff — and we’re just getting pounded with the stuff. You just have to be proactive and be on it. We’re cleaning out our pump stations all the time. You can’t take any chances of having that 2 a.m. problem because we’ve been lackadaisical.”
There is stress related to any job, but Falcone's biggest concern doesn't necessarily involve overflowing pump stations.
“My most stress is that people are less likely to call us if there’s a problem,” he said. “Everyone, if they ever have a problem with their water or their sewer, should be calling their municipality. Some people are so scared about this that they might hesitate to call us. We can handle problems or give them ideas on problems. We’re still taking care of emergency calls.”
Falcone insists the true “everyday heroes" during the pandemic are first responders and doctors and nurses and other emergency personnel, but he and his crew continue to provide an essential service to keep Waterford from having sewage issues.
“They’re people that work under the radar for everybody,” Boudreau said, "Nobody ever notices wastewater people. You flush your toilet, pay your sewer bill and live happily ever after. You don’t realize all the work that those guys have got to do to keep that thing going.”
“I’ve been working for the people of Waterford since I was like 10 years old,” Falcone said. “My father was involved in politics, and he thought that me and my buddies, the best way to keep us out of trouble was to put us to work. So we were all working when were kids, raking leaves or doingwhatever. Everybody that works here have been doing that their whole life. Work is a good thing, and it gets people minds off what’s going on. As long as you can do it safe, it’s a good thing to do.
“You get a municipal job because it’s close and it’s easy, then you start to like it and you get to help people, and then you like it more. That’s why I’m here. I’m got almost 27 years in, and I’ve got a bunch more to work. I don’t plan to anywhere. This is a good place. I like my town, I like my village. Waterford’s in good hands. We’re all from this community, we’re all Fordians, and we all care about our people. That’s why we still work here.”
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