Al Viray, Al Williamson, and Bryon Fauchald recently received a 35-year service award, as well as lunch with acting Wastewater Treatment Division Director Gunars Sreibers and Department of Natural Resources and Parks Director Christie True, to celebrate each employee and his incredible commitment to wastewater services for our region. Thank you to all three for their dedication to King County!
On December 1, 1981 three men, Al Viray, Al Williamson, and Bryon Fauchald, reported for their first day of work at the West Point Treatment plant in Discovery Park. At that time, they were the three newest employees of Metro (now the King County Wastewater Treatment Division, or WTD), and none were too sure how long they would stick it out.
“I came from the Navy, and I could have worked for Boeing. I didn’t know anyone here,’” Viray says. Fauchald could have followed his family into a career as a commercial fisherman, and almost did several times. “I stayed because I had the greatest supervisor,” he said, “and it was a great place to work and a great job for raising a family.”
“I only got to know Al Williamson when he dropped a wrench into a valve and conveniently remembered that it was my fault.” Fauchald laughs, “He still remembers it that way.”
That was 35 years ago, and even though Viray, Williamson, and Fauchald have faced long hours and hard work at a large, complex facility, the three look back on their tenure at West Point Treatment Plant with pride. Viray, Williamson, and Fauchald all took jobs in the wastewater industry for one reason. “It’s always been the kind of job that is stable, but also one that allows you to move up in the organization,” Viray says.
Williamson agreed, and added that though stability was the selling point, another advantage has been the actual work. “This place will challenge you,” he emphasizes. “It will challenge you mentally and physically. When your skills and judgment helps keep the plant together during a bad situation like a major storm and power outage, you really feel accomplished.” Fauchald adds that “there is a lot of variety- you’re always learning and never bored.”
The trio have been part of major changes in the agency, the industry, and regulations. They were part of the team that kept West Point operating as it was upgraded from a primary to secondary treatment system. “You can’t turn the plant off to switch it over, right? We were right in the transition and storms were coming in,” Viray says. “We had to work directly with engineers to operate the new system, because there wasn’t a manual yet. We had to figure it out along the way.”
Many of their most hair-raising adventure stories predate modern equipment and safety regulations. “You didn’t have vactor trucks to suck up sewage and solids into a tank,” says Viray. “You used a shovel.” The men followed regulations and protocols that existed then, but the rulebook was a lot thinner then than now.
When asked how their vast knowledge and experience will be passed on, the men describe two efforts to ensure institutional knowledge doesn’t retire with them. “We’ve always trained our operators from the ground up,” says Viray. “We want them to know the basic parts of the system, how it’s put together, not just start manning the controls.”
Williamson explains that documented standard operating procedures also capture years of experience. Detailed work orders are like pilots’ pre-flight checklists, providing a systematic way to prepare for big tasks like cleaning digesters. “Those work orders used to be on 3 by 5 inch cards,” laughs Williamson. “We had a card file, like a library.”
While a stable job with training, advancement opportunities and lots of challenges inspired the men, there’s a different reason they’ve stayed so long.
“We’ve spent the past 35 years working together, and for 10 years we worked on the same shifts for 50 hours every week. We like each other, but you become close because you have to depend on one another to stay safe,” Williamson says.
“We’ve always watched each other’s backs,” Viray agrees before adding. “It’s really the people and teamwork that have made me stay here so long.”
For Fauchald, being able to raise a family and work with a team that became family was key. “The challenges we faced over the years brought us together at work, and we were spending more time together than with our families at home.”
“I never thought I’d be in such a diverse workplace, where I’d come into contact with people with such different backgrounds, from all walks of life, who have stories so different from mine,” Williamson says. “That’s been the best part for me. My only regret is never taking the opportunity to learn some of the other languages my coworkers speak.”
Viray, who hails from the Philippines and speaks three languages, leans back in his chair confidently. “I have no regrets.”