Getting the word out when water mains break

Dispatch team works 24/7 to get crews on the scene when emergencies hit the streets.

December 7, 2017 | By: Jay Adams

There’s a saying among the workers in Denver Water’s central dispatch center: Water main breaks are just like tornados and earthquakes — you can’t predict them, but you know they’re going to happen.

“We have around 300 water main breaks a year,” said Brandam Palmore, a Denver Water dispatcher for more than three years. “Pipes can break at all hours of the day, and we have to be ready to respond.”

Denver Water started its central dispatch program in 2014 to improve communication and efficiency among field crews during emergencies and scheduled work.

“It’s been a big success,” said Andrew Lobato, Denver Water central dispatch supervisor. “A lot of people are involved when a water main breaks. Our dispatchers coordinate the response so we can minimize the impact on our customers.”

The central dispatch team works like a police or fire department dispatch center.

Denver Water repair crews respond to a water main break at 29th Avenue and Zuni Street in Denver.
Denver Water repair crews respond to a water main break at 29th Avenue and Zuni Street in Denver.

“When a water main breaks, someone from the public calls us, and we immediately dispatch an emergency service worker to check out the location,” Lobato said. “The report could be a false alarm or it could be a major issue.”

Anthony Gutierrez is one of Denver Water’s emergency services workers who serves as a first responder.

“The dispatchers keep us moving all day long, and we can usually get to any location in about 20 minutes,” Gutierrez said. “They get us the information we need to check out a location and then we report back what we find.”

Dispatchers also call out Denver Water’s repair crews when a main break is confirmed.

“The communication between our dispatchers, emergency service workers and repair crews helps customers,” said John Lujan, water distribution foreman at Denver Water. “The dispatchers get our crews to the scene as fast as possible and that cuts down on the amount of time people are without water.”

A day in the dispatch center can get extremely busy when there are multiple water main breaks or breaks involving large pipes that have major impacts on traffic or customers.

Palmore’s most memorable moment happened in January when a large water pipe broke at the intersection of 29th Avenue and Zuni Street in northwest Denver.

“Someone in the area called and said there’s a lot of water running down the street, and then all our phones started ringing off the hook,” Palmore said. “I knew something big happened and right away got crews moving to the scene.”

Staying calm, multitasking and learning how to prioritize incidents are some of the key skills dispatchers need to be successful, according to Palmore.

“Some days are slow, but I’ve also been on duty when we had six water mains break in one day,” Palmore said. “We have to think fast and consider public safety, the number of people impacted and location of the break when deciding who we need to call first.”

Denver Water dispatcher, coordinates crews during a water main break.
Pete Garduno, Denver Water dispatcher, coordinates crews during a water main break.

Dispatcher Peter Garduno was an emergency service field worker before transitioning to central dispatch.

“My experience in the field helps as a dispatcher because I know what information the field crews need when they’re on an emergency,” Garduno said.

The dispatch center is staffed 24 hours a day, including weekends and holidays.

The dispatchers respond to calls from across Denver Water’s service area, which includes 1.4 million people in Denver as well as Adams, Arapahoe, Jefferson and Douglas counties.

“We take pride in getting our crews in the field as much information as possible as fast as we can to help make their job easier,” Palmore said. “The more efficient we can be, the faster we can get water flowing again to our customers.”

To report problems or ask questions about your water service contact Denver Water Customer Care at 303-893-2444.

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