Written by Sean Cleary 4:06 pm Backflow Prevention

Love the Work You Do

This may sound hard to believe, but I truly love my job. I am seldom home and spend most of my time traveling to locations and teaching week-long backflow tester or repair certification classes. Since the beginning of 2018, I have been to the states of Tennessee, Louisiana, California, Minnesota, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Wyoming. I have taught 13 different classes and made presentations at both the University of Florida TREEO CCC Conference in Daytona Beach and the American Backflow Prevention Association Conference in Orlando. At all these venues, I have met and spoke with many individuals who share my passion for protecting the quality and safety of the water systems throughout our nation.

It is always interesting to speak with people from different areas of the country about what is happening in specific regions relating to cross-connection control. It is also fascinating to see how different people from diverse stakeholder groups look at the same backflow prevention and cross-connection control issues with completely dissimilar ideas or solutions. In the cross-connection arena we have plumbers, pipefitters, sprinkler fitters, irrigation contractors, water and waste water personnel, inspectors, manufacturers, regulators, and a host of other groups. Each of these groups seem to, at times, look at things though a different filter and with their own perspective on the proper solution to any number of issues.

As someone with a background in the plumbing industry, I know that influences my opinion in many situations. When I was younger, I looked at things with a much different perspective than I do now. I am of Irish decent and can be strong willed and stubborn at times. Have you heard the definition of Irish Alzheimer’s disease? It’s when you forget everything but the grudges. I once wrote an article that stated the only individuals who should test, install, or repair backflow prevention assemblies should be licensed plumbers. The feedback I received from that article opened my eyes to many different opinions that exist on that topic and made me re-examine my own perspective in many ways. As I have grown older, I have learned that we truly need to look at problems and issues from many different angles and have respect for the viewpoints of others. Everything in the world is not black and white – there are many shades of gray.

In many areas of our industry, people only look at things as black and white. Take for example the issue of determining the type of protection required to be installed on the potable water supply to irrigation systems. All three model plumbing codes require that devices or assemblies on these systems be approved for high hazard protection. In some areas, however, the use of low hazard protection such as dual check valve devices or double check valve assemblies are allowed. In other situations, the Authority Having Jurisdiction may require the installation of a reduced pressure principle assemblies as the only allowable protection. The 2018 Uniform Plumbing Code® allows for the use of reduced pressure principle assemblies, pressure vacuum breaker assemblies, spill-resistant vacuum breaker assemblies, or atmospheric vacuum breakers on irrigation systems. This allows installers to choses the proper protection depending on system type, location, elevation, and other factors that may be present on an individual system. In the cross-connection world, one size or type does not fit all. Each installation should be looked at as unique.

This is when it’s important for people to keep open minds and look at things from all sides. I have heard people in the industry attempt to make things black and white – “If it’s a commercial service, it must be protected with a reduced pressure principle assembly for containment protection, no matter what the hazard.” Others make the point that containment protection is not necessary at all and that isolation protection at each fixture or appliance is the only route to take. Still others (myself included) believe that protection at both locations, containment and isolation, is the best way to go. Who should make these decisions and how the decisions should be made are also interesting factors that vary by state and regional locations.

I had a plumber who was having an issue with a local inspector concerning the water supply to a piece of restaurant equipment contact me recently. The inspector wanted a stainless steel reduced pressure backflow prevention assembly installed, but the adopted plumbing code did not require the protection he was demanding. The plumber hadn’t figured the additional cost into his pricing and was looking for advice. He gave me the inspector’s number and asked me to reach out to him. I did, and it was an interesting conversation. We talked code sections and regulations and it became clear that it was simply the inspector’s opinion as to what protection he thought should be installed. It had become a, “Because I say so situation.” Because I say so is never a good reason for anything. We did come to a meeting of the minds on the phone and, in the end, everything worked out in a way that was acceptable to everyone involved. However, it did require us to look at things and concerns using a different point of view.

That is what all of the stakeholders in the cross-connection industry need to do from time to time – look at things from a different point of view. We face large issues in the industry and we don’t live in a black and white or a one-size-fits-all world. As I have grown older, I have learned to look at things in a different way – to realize that my point of view may not always be the correct one and that I, at times, have been in the wrong. Living is a lifelong learning process and, although I didn’t believe it when I was younger, it’s true that you grow wiser as you age. In the cross-connection industry, we need to solve the issues that we face daily. We need to look at these problems and take into consideration all sides of the equation when coming to conclusions. Keep an open mind, listen to other people, respect their opinions, and try to reach consensus wherever possible. Enjoy the work you do and the people you work with and you will love your work as much as I do.

As President Theodore Roosevelt said during a 1903 Labor Day speech, “Far and away the best prize life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

Article first published in Working Pressure magazine

Sean Cleary

Sean Cleary has been a member of United Association Local 524 Scranton, Pa. for more than 40 years. He has worked in all phases of the plumbing and mechanical industry, and is a licensed master plumber. Cleary is a past president of ASSE International and past chairman of the ASSE Cross-Connection Control Technical Committee. He is employed by IAPMO as the vice president of operations for the Backflow Prevention Institute (BPI).

Last modified: December 19, 2023