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Sewer men battle at Jamaica plant

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Working to clean and maintain the city’s sewers may not seem like the most desirable job, but the men who spend day after day in the deep of things take their craft very seriously.

On Tuesday, some of the city’s best “sludge teams” came out to the Jamaica Wastewater Treatment Plant on 134th Street to show off their skills and take home bragging rights as to who was the best group of sewer men.

The center hosted the city Department of Environmental Protection’s 23rd-annual Operations Challenge competition and four teams from Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan took part in several competitions that tested how quickly and efficiently the workers completed their duties.

Larry Brincat, superintendent for the Jamaica plant who was overseeing the competition, said that although the three-man teams are highly competitive against each other, the teams ultimately help improve their skills as city workers.

“I think it builds camaraderie,” he said of the events. “They learn teamwork and they get to work with different equipment.”

During this year’s challenge, the “Sludge Fellas” of the Owl’s Head plant in Brooklyn, the “Trash Talkers” of the Tallman Island plant in College Point and the “River Rats” and the “Generators” of the North River plant from Harlem had to endure five timed events.

A multiple-choice exam tested the men on their knowledge and history of the wastewater treatment process. The men then had to fix a broken pipe as it was leaking water. A lab experiment had to be conducted to determine the pollution levels in discharged water. The maintenance event had the teams remove broken underwater DEP equipment, repair it and put it back in service. The fifth event had the teams perform a rescue of a dummy in a simulated sewer.

Mike Grasso, captain of the River Rats, said that as treatment plant workers, they have to be prepared for anything in the field.

“It’s pretty much everything we do on an everyday basis,” he said.

The River Rats, who came in first in the competition, will go on to the state finals in June and possibly the national finals in New Orleans in October. The winner of the city Operations Challenge has gone on to the national finals for the last 14 years, according to the DEP.

Mel Newton, 49, captain of the Trash Talkers and who has been competing for the last five years, said he and his fellow workers take the event seriously since the entire country is waiting to see which city is the best.

“This is where all of your training comes to play,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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