We are learning more about the efforts of two men who brought a welcome, yet surprising end to the water crisis in Prince George's County this week.
WSSC Facility Technicians Brad Destelhorst and Tom Ecker, who with grit, muscle and an iron will overnight Tuesday, helped to keep the water flowing to more than 100,000 WSSC customers this week.
"It's what I do,” said Destelhorst. “That's why I'm here.”
"I've worked for 21 years in the ground on all different types of valves, along with Brad for the last six years, and you know, we just attacked it with a game plan and we stuck to it," said Ecker.
They were able to close a valve to divert water to the affected residents while standing in three feet of water in a vault 20 feet underground.
"As far as a valve scenario goes, this thing was destroyed,” said Destelhorst. “And I mean, when I had the parts in hand, looking at them at first, I was like this isn't going to work."
And their bosses were thinking the same thing. That is why they never mentioned the possibility of a workaround to avoid an all-out water emergency in the southern part of the county.
"And with the information we had available to us, if I had to make that decision again today, I would make the same decision,” said WSSC General Manager and CEO Jerry Johnson. “Because we had no assurance whatever that we would ever be able to get that valve open. That's the very first time an effort like that has ever been undertaken here, much less caused to be successful."
While contractors from New Jersey were fixing the failing 54-inch water main in woods along the Beltway in Forestville, Ecker and Destelhorst were working two miles north of here.
"We got the hammers out, we got the chisels out, we started knocking all the rust out of it,” Destelhorst said. “We got the grinders out. Started grinding teeth patterns back into it."
And so, the impossible was working.
"Prior, it was slipping … and what we did we actually is we built the gears back up and tightened them up to where they actually would grip so it would actually work," said Destelhorst.
They used a valve machine to turn the gear 400 times. But Destelhorst says there was no high-fiving.
"To be honest with you, the first thing that came to mind after we got it to close is: Are we going to get it back open?” Destelhorst said. “The job's not done yet. Once we've got the main repaired, that valve's back open, that main's back in service, then I'll rest easy.
The mandatory water restrictions will remain in place until the repair job is completed. WSSC officials say they hope everything will be done by the weekend.