Chris Long has been working for the city of Ashland a long time — 32 years to be exact.
A humble, soft-spoken public servant, he provides essential services that most people don’t think much about - or when they do, say “eeew” first.
As superintendent of Ashland’s wastewater treatment plant, Long is responsible for overseeing all the operations at the facility, which treats approximately 2 billion gallons of residential sewage and industrial wastewater each year.
He is responsible for ensuring the plant operates smoothly and complies with all the state and federal clean water standards. He oversees the maintenance on parts and pipes, ensures weekly reports get sent to the state Division of Water, manages employees’ schedules and deals with breakdowns. The plant must run continuously 24-hours a day, seven days a week regardless of holidays, weather conditions or other circumstances to keep up with the waste generated by Ashland residents and those in some surrounding areas.
The wastewater treatment plant is staffed around the clock by more than a dozen employees, all of whom work under Long’s watchful eye. Most residents, however, don’t have any idea what Long does or the importance of the wastewater treatment plant, which ensures clean water — not raw sewage or industrial waste — flows into the Ohio River, the source of drinking water for more than 5 million Americans.
Long is the first to point this out. “A lot of people don’t know a lot about the area of wastewater treatment or the environmental field of it, but there are a lot of jobs in it. And they are all pretty good-paying jobs,” said Long. He knows because he’s worked almost every position at the plant during his tenure there.
“I don’t want to sound like sour grapes, but you have national firefighter day, national policeman day, but you never have national sewer pump operator day or wastewater plant day. Sometimes they have public service employee day
“We probably don't merit a day, but we do do work that most people wouldn’t do.”
Even the wastewater plant itself is out of the public’s eye — tucked behind the floodwall at 23rd Street and wedged between the railroad tracks, piles of Mansbach scrap metal and the Ohio River.
The sprawling plant was built in 1981, the same year Long began his career with the city.
Long, 52, hired in as a sanitation worker, but an accident there cost him the tips of two fingers and he next became a janitor at the city building. He then returned to sanitation department for a short stint before taking a meter reader position “for a few years.”
In 1987, he became a shift operator at the wastewater treatment plant, which required him to train and study the science of water treatment. In the years that followed, Long worked hard at his training, acquiring one level after another of wastewater operators licenses and advancing through the ranks of the department.
Long has held every job at the plant except for lab technician. “I worked different shifts, and I worked at this other building,” he said pointing behind him out his office window to another part of the plant. “Then I went back to shift work. I got this job on Aug. 9, 2004.”
The date is bittersweet. It sticks in his mind because his son, Mason, died from brain cancer that date 13 years before.
“I just happened to get the job on that day, the anniversary day,” he says, before adding, “But that was a long time ago. The city was good to me then. They took up collections, when I needed time off, they gave me time off. It is kind of like a family thing,” he said of the way the city treated him and his wife during one of the most difficult periods of his life. “They take care of their own. That is one good thing I like about the city.”
There are lots of other things Long likes about working for “the city” too. He considers Ashland one of the area’s “premiere employers,” in part because of that sense of responsibility, kindness and camaraderie employees feel for one another within and across departments.
“It’s a good group of employees here, and we have good bosses downtown,” said Long. “It’s been a good place to work all these years.”
The benefits -— pay, vacation, insurance, and retirement — are good, too, he said. Long even earned his associate’s degree in business from Ashland Community and Technical College while working for the city.
Employees also enjoy wellness benefits that allow them three hours weekly to work out or exercise. Long uses his wellness time to do Crossfit at a nearby gym or run. In the last year he set a personal goal to run a 5K each weekend.
Looking back, Long laughs at the thought he is working in the field of environmental science and overseeing a plant of employees doing the same. “When I was in high school, I hated science. I never thought I’d be working in a scientific field.”
Although he’s served 32 years and counting working for the public, he has no plans to retire anytime soon. “I like my job,” he said when asked. Long is actually a second-generation Ashland employee. His mother, Aileen Long, worked as a secretary for the city for many years.
“I always had more respect for the city than most because my mom raised four of us by herself working for the city without a (driver’s) license or anything,” said Long, adding, “People say, ‘You work for the city, that’s not a very good job.’ Well, it was for my mom and it has been for me.”
Long is lifelong Ashland resident and a 1978 graduate of Paul G. Blazer High School. He and his wife, Paula, were married in 1981 and have two daughters, Karissa, 21, and Marissa, 18.
In addition to being a paid public servant, Long is also heavily involved in the community through volunteer work. He organizes the annual 45th Street Reunion and is a trustee of Crum Chapel. He also spent 21 years in the Kentucky National Guard.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2635 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org