A Day in the Life of an Underwater Bridge Inspector

For our FDOT District 4 underwater bridge inspection team, diving isn’t just a fun pastime: it’s another day on the job. Check out these interviews with professional FDOT divers Michael Payer, Kyle Fortenberry, John Baker and Cody Rimmer to find out what’s really going on underneath the surface.

Tell me more about what you do.

Rimmer: “So, we do a multitude of things. Mainly it’s underwater inspections for bridges in the districts that we work for. We also inspect other local structures like traffic signal mast arms [and] high mast light poles.”

Payer: “Our main objective is to inspect the underwater portions of bridges, of state roadways. All bridges have to be inspected, per federal guidelines, every two years . . . so we’re basically complying with regulations.”

Why is it important that this job gets done?

Rimmer: “Our job, along with the other contractors working together, is very important because it maintains the quality of the infrastructure of the bridges that everybody uses.”

Fortenberry: “The bridge could fall, because there’s a thing called scour, which is when the piles are driven into the dirt, and the dirt gets washed out, and then there’s no more support. If you don’t have any support for the middle of the bridge and you have a lot of trucks driving over it, it could just collapse right there. And time will erode a bridge or do a lot of corrosion damage.”

What does a typical day look like for you?

Baker: “There’s not normally just a typical day for us. We do a lot of field work and also in-office work. We’re usually out either running a boat, or we’re out inspecting traffic signal mast arms or overhead signs.”

Payer: “There’s a lot of prep before, there’s a lot of organization . . . there’s prep in reviewing old reports, there’s prep in getting our gear ready, and then getting to the structure and completing the inspection.”

Fortenberry: “We’ll go to our dive locker, which we have over at Broward Operations, and we go get all of our gear, all of our scuba gear. If it’s in a construction site we have hard hat gear that we get. Then we have a report that we have so we know where to go, so we just deploy to the site and we conduct the inspection right there.”

What are some of the challenges of your job?

Baker: “Some of the challenges would be weather, as well as hazardous ocean conditions. We do dive in a lot of current, as well as we have alligators sometimes that infest our bridges. So we do have that as one of the challenges, as well as working with a lot of contractors and project managers. We do deal with a lot of people.”

Rimmer: “The biggest challenge . . . is actually the quality of the waters sometimes could be hazardous, because you have algae blooms, you have sewer outbreaks or sewer line busts and stuff that leaks into the channels, and just trying to maintain a safe environment.”

Fortenberry: “The visibility. Sometimes lights will work, but you have to get pretty close. If it’s a big deficiency that we’re looking for, you can touch it and you can feel it and pretty much get an idea of what it is. Sometimes it’s more of imagination and like touching and feeling to find something, and also with the water you have your dangerous marine life: alligators, urchins that you can step on, lionfish, anything that can bite you, pretty much.”

What do you like most about your work?

Payer: “Probably the flexibility.”

Fortenberry: “I just love it because I enjoy diving. We don’t get the clearest water, but I enjoy it because it feels nice to get out and just do what you enjoy doing. I got into diving when I was . . . 15, and I’ve been in love with it ever since.”

Baker: “Every day’s a little different. We don’t get into a lot of repetition. We have a lot of structures here in our district that we inspect, so we’re at different locations.”

Rimmer: “Diving is hands-down one of the [most fun] things you can do . . . you wouldn’t really think that this would be a job that FDOT does . . . it’s very intricate, it’s odd and it’s a little bit different compared to the majority of what other people do.”

Do you find fulfillment in your job? If so, what does that look like?

Baker: “Being able to submit reports at the end and seeing the work that gets completed on the structures after, because we do a lot of quality control. So even after a structure gets inspected, we go back out to the field, once work gets completed on them, to see if it was done to our standard. So it’s pretty cool when you go back out to the field and you saw what the structure looked like before, and you get back out there and it’s in a better condition than it was a couple months before.”

Rimmer: “You’re a part of a process that’s statewide. When you go out there and you find something that’s worth finding and you employ a plan to actually get it fixed to prevent any future mishaps, then it makes you feel really good about yourself.”

What did you do before FDOT?

Rimmer: “I was prior military. Nowhere near what I do here, I was actually a military medic in the army. After the military I went to dive school, got my commercial diver’s license, went offshore for half a year, and then came back here to Florida.”

Baker: “Before this job I actually used to clean boats underwater…It helped prepare me as far as being around boats. We have a boat we maintain here in the office as well, along with other boats in other operations centers we have around our district.”

Fortenberry: “I was kind of bouncing around jobs. I was working at Aldi, then I went to a commercial dive school in Houston, did 7 ½ months, then this job popped up right before I graduated and right when I graduated I put my application in, and I got lucky.”

Payer: “I would inspect sewage treatment plants, water treatment facilities, water towers, stuff like that. I would do underwater inspection.”

How did you find this job?

Rimmer: “I applied online.”

Payer: “So basically I was traveling around the United States being an inspector, and I went to multiple schools to get to where I am, and I saw that FDOT had a job opening, and I applied all the way across the United States and I got it.”

What would you say to someone who’s interested in doing what you do?

Payer: “It’s an interesting job . . . if you like excitement, if you like a change of pace every day, I think it would be a great job. [You] definitely get to do a job that not a lot of people get to do. If you ever ask people about underwater bridge inspection, not a lot of people know about it, and I was one of them. I had no idea it was a career path. It’s an interesting path… it’s always going to be around, I think.”

FDOT District 4 Kicks Off Brand-New Mentoring Program

On Feb. 12, FDOT District 4 officially launched its mentorship program, designed to help employees gain valuable knowledge and insight from more experienced members of the department.

Throughout the program, nineteen mentor/mentee pairs will participate in nine months of one-on-one coaching. The pairs will meet at least once a month, be invited to attend optional mentorship events, and have access to professional development resources aimed at helping participants achieve their goals throughout the duration of the mentorship.

The District 4 Mentorship Program started as a single idea written down on a piece of paper. Autumn Young, District Freight Coordinator and member of the mentoring program team, eventually got her idea for a formal mentoring program greenlit by Secretary Gerry O’Reilly during the first District 4 Shark Tank event. Shark Tank is an annual internal innovation competition for FDOT employees.

“The mentorship program got off the ground through the contributions of many, many people around the District,” said Young. “Now, 38 staff, and hopefully many more in the future, are benefiting because all of these people went out of their way to support a small, seemingly insignificant idea jotted down on my yellow notepad.”

The mentoring program is designed to help FDOT District 4 employees gain valuable knowledge and insight from more experienced members of the department.

During the mentoring program kick-off on Feb. 12 in Ft. Lauderdale, participants got to know each other, participate in professional relationship-building activities, and discuss what it means to be a good mentor or mentee.

The mentoring team believes that the program will benefit District 4 by improving managerial competency, cultivating leadership skills, helping new hires get up to speed faster, facilitating retention and transfer of knowledge, creating an inclusive and diverse culture and retaining talent through long-term career planning and personal development.

“Pairs are given practical tools, resources, and support from the mentoring team to empower the mentees to create a successful relationship with their mentor and achieve their goals – whether it be learning how to best prepare for a promotion, simply learning more about the department, or figuring out how to develop achievable goals altogether,” said Young.

The program supports Secretary Kevin Thibault’s goal of attracting, retaining and training talented and passionate FDOT employees.

Secretary O’Reilly and Construction Hybrid Manager Matthew Carlock make up one of this year’s 19 mentor/mentee pairs.

Matthew Carlock, Construction Hybrid Manager at FDOT District 4 Palm Beach Operations, said that he joined the program to get exposure to different perspectives and experiences. He was paired with Secretary O’Reilly.

“Being in construction, I wanted to learn more about the development of the work program and creating projects that ultimately come to construction,” Carlock said. “I also wanted to learn leadership skill sets to aid in my growth as a manager…I believe the mentoring program provides an opportunity for employees to interact with other department staff other than their direct supervisor and aid in their development.”

One of the mentoring program team’s objectives was to make the mentor/mentee pairings as organic as possible. The goals of mentees were one of the primary factors taken into account when selecting an appropriate mentor.

James Poole, District Drainage Engineer and one of this year’s mentors, felt compelled to join the mentoring program to “pay it forward” for all of the investments that his FDOT mentors made into his growth throughout his 17-year career.

“[The mentoring program] affords us a unique opportunity to set aside time to invest in personal growth and development,” Poole said. “There’s no such class or formal training for the valuable insights you can gain through a personal relationship.”

According to Young, the mentorship program gives staff members a way to work on their goals, whatever they may be.

“The mentorship program gives staff of all levels and career paths the opportunity to be coached one-on-one by someone outside your direct chain of command on how to achieve what matters most to you,” she said.

Applications for the District 4 Mentorship Program will re-open in December 2020.

A Day in the Life of a Transportation Technology Manager

Keeping roadways clear and safe doesn’t just happen. Go in-depth with TSM&O Maintenance Program Manager Jessica Blum to learn about what it’s like to work at FDOT District 4’s Regional Transportation Management Center (RTMC):

How did you get involved with FDOT?

“In 2012 I applied for a dispatching position within the control room, managing traffic and ensuring that people on the roadway were safe with Road Ranger technology. I worked that job for about three years before I became the administrative assistant on the Severe Incident Response Vehicle Program, working on consultant projects within FDOT. From there I joined another consulting firm and assisted them with their ITS (intelligent transportation systems) maintenance program, doing inventory, auditing, etc. Then, in 2016 I joined FDOT and I’ve been working here for about two and a half years as the TSM&O Maintenance Program Manager.”

What attracted you to this job?

“The fast-paced nature of this job is what attracted me to this position: knowing that I would be doing something different every day.”

“What I like about my job is that it allows me to be innovate and creative as far as how I see this program going. I ensure that we are giving expert knowledge to the people who need it for special ITS equipment, and this job gives me the freedom to change things that I see that are not efficient for the project and to ensure that traffic operations as a whole is working.”

What is ITS?

“It’s all the smart technology that we use on the highways, such as cameras, dynamic messaging overhang signs, and detection systems that assist with data output of travel times. We also manage fiber-optic cables within the ground to ensure that everything within District 4 infrastructure is communicating properly.”

What does your day-to-day look like?

“In my day-to-day I coordinate with different departments to ensure that ITS standard specifications are met, especially with construction. I ensure processes are efficient so that our program is moving like a well-oiled machine, and I make sure that our budget is managed for our five-year contracts so that we are spending money where it needs to be spent. [I make sure] devices are new, that once they’re out of life cycle, they’re replaced, and anything that’s broken can be fixed. We also handle requests from the public, especially with tree trimming as of late. When there are trees blocking signs, we go out there immediately and handle those requests.”

Why is your job important?

“Without the ITS maintenance program, CCTVs (cameras) wouldn’t be functioning. CCTVs are really critical for our operations team to see events such as multi-vehicle crashes or a traveler that needs assistance with a flat tire or somebody who ran out of gas. Without that kind of coverage or visual we wouldn’t know who’s out there. The detection systems are ensuring that travel times that are represented on the dynamic messaging signs are accurate so the traveling public knows how long it takes to get to another place.”

RTMC is a 24/7 operation. Do you find your job stressful?

“It’s a big job . . . I find it stressful at times but more rewarding than stressful. Definitely being able to see that devices come back online, that operators can see incidents: that’s pretty rewarding. Knowing that travel times are accurate: that’s rewarding. And that goes along with configuring the devices and making sure they’re working properly. And that goes back to the people that you work with who have that expert knowledge in order to do that.”

Did you ever think you would end up someplace like FDOT?

“No, definitely not.”

“In the past I was working somewhere where I wasn’t happy and I came here as an operator and realized how interesting transportation and traffic is and how much goes into the day-to-day of keeping the roadways clear and safe for the public.”

“So I kept on working in this field and there were so many opportunities to jump into that I didn’t even know what I wanted to do at a certain point. I was guided into working in maintenance which is very exciting. Having this type of job makes me feel good because I know that I’m helping people in the public, ensuring that they’re getting to the place they need to go to in a safe manner.”

For current open FDOT jobs, visit jobs.myflorida.com.

Plan to Attract More Women to FDOT Wins D4 Shark Tank

Inspiring future generations of engineers was the top priority at this year’s annual D4 Shark Tank event on Dec. 12, 2019. Kris McKirdy from Transportation Development won over the judges and fellow FDOT employees with her idea to create an educational event for young female students, with the goal of attracting more women to FDOT and to the field of engineering as a whole.

The half-day event would provide female high school students with an opportunity to learn more about a rewarding career in civil engineering, with a focus on transportation engineering.  During this event, students would rotate through a variety of departments at the D4 headquarters and learn more about roadway design, 3D modeling, structures, construction, drainage, TSM&O, traffic design, and utilities. 

“The goal of this outreach event is to introduce civil engineering to female students who are interested in math and science but engineering is not yet on their radar as a potential college major, primarily due to a lack of information about what engineers do,” said McKirdy.

This year’s Shark Tank featured many other innovative ideas. Alice Custis from Treasure Coast Operations Maintenance won second place with her idea to implement dashboard cams as a safety measure for FDOT employees out on the road. Ana Paula Silva from Procurement and Ray Balzer from Facilities Management took third place with their idea to develop and implement more effective and safer signage in the D4 offices.

D4 Secretary Gerry O’Reilly expressed his admiration for the quality of the ideas presented at this year’s event.

“We want to implement as many good ideas as we can. [We] vote for a winner here, and that’s nice, but we’re going to try to implement every good idea that we hear,” said Secretary O’Reilly.