Using sewing machines, 3D printers, craftsmanship and dedication, Denver Water employees are stepping up to help keep their co-workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic by making masks from home.
One of the volunteers is Rebecca Flores, a Denver Water Customer Care representative.
“I volunteered to make some masks because I know there is a huge shortage and our employees out in the field need to be protected,” Flores said. “I know how essential our workers are and just knowing I can help someone stay safe and make it home safe to their family every night warms my heart.“
While most Denver Water’s employees are working from home, many jobs require workers to go to Denver Water facilities or job sites to make sure water gets to more than 1.5 million people across the metro area.
Jobs that can require interaction with other employees or the public include pipe repair workers, information technology workers, water quality technicians, treatment plant operators, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, customer service field technicians and security officers.
Under Denver Water’s guidelines during COVID-19, employees are required to wear face masks at the utilities’ facilities and job sites when they are near other employees or close to the public. These jobs are exempt from statewide shutdown orders due to the essential nature of their work of supplying water.
As the coronavirus began to spread in March, Denver Water’s frontline workers began wearing masks to prevent the spread of the disease.
But Denver Water’s warehouse ran low on its mask supply in late March and had to scramble to find alternatives. The utility keeps a supply of masks in stock for employees who work around dust and certain construction projects as well as for warmth in cold weather.
With masks taking on a new safety role, employees mounted a grassroots effort to restock the warehouse shelves, with several dozen Denver Water employees taking part in a mask-making supply chain.
Three IT workers who own 3D printers found instructions online to make masks for co-workers who don’t have sewing machines or materials.
“I had a 3D printer and was looking for a way to help,” said Shawn Goodman, IT security analyst at Denver Water. “It takes about two hours to print the clips and I’ve made about 40 sets with more on the way.”
The 3D-printed clips are made from plastic and snap together to hold rubber bands and materials like t-shirts, cloth or bandanas in place to make the facemask.
Goodman, along with fellow IT co-workers Justin Medina, Mark Thomas and his son, drop off the clips at Denver Water’s warehouse, where they are packaged with rubber bands. The items are sanitized and made available for field employees to pick up and assemble with their own fabric.
Lance Cloyd, a district manager for crews who work at Denver Water’s dams and canals in the metro area, and his family are making masks using the 3D clips.
“My wife and daughter are using the clips to make dozens of masks,” Cloyd said. “I felt like it was the right thing to do so our employees have the protection they need.”
Tanisha Lucas, a Customer Care representative, is using her sewing skills to make custom masks with her kids.
She started making them for local firefighters, then heard about Denver Water’s needs and started making masks for them too.
“I’m not on the front lines, but I wanted to use my sewing skills to help everyone out,” Lucas said. “My kids are helping too so we’re happy to make this a fun family experience.”
One of the beneficiaries of the volunteer mask-making effort is Eddie McCarthy, a Denver Water customer service field technician who’s job requires him to drive around the metro area and work in the community.
McCarthy’s and other field technicians respond to customer questions about their water service and also maintain and repair water meters and other electronic devices used in the water delivery system.
On the job, McCarthy has been wearing his own masks as well as ones made by his co-workers.
“On behalf of everyone currently operating in the field, we would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to all the volunteers who have made and continue to make masks for us,” McCarthy said. “Your hard work and dedication is greatly appreciated. Together we will beat this virus.”
While the volunteers are making masks, Denver Water also has been able to order new masks, bandanas and balaclava ski masks. Denver Water believes it is in good shape in terms of safety masks for employees with its current level of volunteer mask makers and incoming mask deliveries.
“I am so impressed with the teamwork and dedication of our employees,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water’s CEO/Manager. “I continue to be amazed by the professionalism and all-hands-on-deck attitudes I’ve seen over the last few weeks as we are faced with these new challenges.”