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.”