September 2016, Vol. 71 No. 9


NASSCO Standard Bearers: Rudy Fernandez

NASSCO just completed its 40th anniversary and continues to set standards for the assessment and rehabilitation of underground infrastructure. As the association continues its phenomenal growth, this series profiles those who have made significant contributions and impacted the continued acceptance and growth of trenchless rehabilitation methods. This is a bi-monthly installment in a series of articles exploring the history of NASSCO through the eyes of industry leaders.

This month, NASSCO honors Rudy Fernandez. He has been part of the sewer and water industry for over 40 years (since 1972), and is a long time NASSCO supporter. He currently serves as the chair of WEF Collections System Committee, a position that he will be turning over to fellow NASSCO member Luis Leon at WEFTEC in late September. In that role he has actively facilitated collaboration between NASSCO and other organizations. Fernandez was also one of the pioneers in researching inflow and infiltration, which we have come to appreciate as one of the major challenges in our industry.

The summer before my senior year in college at Princeton University, I took a job with the American Public Works Association where I was assigned to a special infiltration and inflow project for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This was back in 1969, so very little was known about I/I at the time. I was part of a task force charged with learning as much as possible about the problem to help uncover the impact of I/I on our systems and our communities.

I spent most of my time that summer in the library of the American Society of Civil Engineers, headquartered in New York City at the time, as well as the libraries at the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University. My goal was to read every published article or piece of literature I could get my hands on regarding I/I. I was successful. That summer I identified and digested everything available which, although it might sound impressive, was not as challenging as it may seem because there was not much on the subject! I wrote a synopsis on I/I and shared it with Arthur Brokaw, who was the principal investigator on the project. He needed a researcher for the summer and I was recommended to him through one of my professors.

When I graduated from college in 1970, with a degree in civil engineering in hand, my goal was to go on to graduate school. Unfortunately, I graduated during a recession and had to find a part-time job so I could afford to continue my education. I took an entry-level position with the telephone company in New York, and even though it was somewhat technical, it wasn’t engineering. In 1972 I knew I had to move on.

A career begins

I called Mr. Brokaw for his professional advice and guidance. During our conversation he shared with me that he was launching a new consulting firm, Brokaw Engineering Associates, and asked if I’d like to join him in his new venture. I jumped at the chance and began my daily reverse-commute from New York to New Jersey. As a small firm, Brokaw Engineering Associates allowed me to wear many hats, and I gained an incredible amount of first-hand knowledge. I worked in the field, came into the office to analyze the data, and delivered the final reports. Everything we did back then has since been labeled “condition

In the mid-1970s, water pollution was out of control and industry professionals available to address the problems were virtually non-existent. The EPA established the Construction Grants Programs to fund 75 percent of the improvements necessary to address issues related to water pollution. Brokaw Engineering Associates became a specialist in condition assessment field work and engineering related to collections systems for public utilities and/or their consultants. I assumed that the grants would eventually end, at which time I would have to search for a different type of engineering job. The grants eventually ended, but the need to identify and reduce I/I never has.

I met my wife, who lived in Washington, D.C., in 1979. Soon thereafter we moved to Maryland near the nation’s capital. I began working at Elson T. Killam Associates, an engineering consulting firm headquartered in New Jersey. Working at the firm’s Silver Spring, MD, office, I served the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission where I met my client, Mike Burkhard. Mike later became NASSCO’s executive director from 1999-2002, and continually shared with me the enormous impact NASSCO was making on the industry, particularly in regards to setting standards.

My career path then led to 20-plus years at RJN Environmental and nine years at Parsons Brinckerhoff and then to Jacobs Engineering in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, where I am delighted to be working.

NASSCO connection

Currently I am also very much involved with the WEF Collection Systems Committee, where I am completing a two-year term as the chair. The incoming chair, Luis Leon, is a trainer for NASSCO’s Inspector Training Certification Program, and is also a strong supporter of the organization. I had always perceived NASSCO as an association for contractor companies, not individual engineers. Luis set the record straight. He is not a contractor and joined NASSCO as an engineer, so I followed suit and also signed up as an engineer member of NASSCO.

NASSCO offers engineers like me many benefits, including technical resources on construction from a different perspective than that of an engineering society. The reason is that NASSCO is comprised of many contractors who are very well established in their industry. It’s a highly competitive field, one in which contractors are constantly seeking ways to improve and deliver better services, and become more efficient and cost-effective overall. As a result, they truly care about the technology because it affects their bottom line. As a design engineer, I can always try to interpret what the client wants, but I am not about to pretend to be an expert in deciding how it should be done. I do, however, want to know what the latest technologies are so if it makes sense I can consider it for the projects I am involved with. That’s where NASSCO comes in, to bring me the latest technological advancements in underground construction.

Standards for these technologies are also a critical piece to make sure the work gets done right. But I believe we need to work together to ensure that standards don’t stifle the research and development that will bring us improved technologies. In the field of wastewater we have manuals of practice, industry standards and other resources, but no authority that says “Thou shalt do it this way.” In water and wastewater, industry standards and practice are constantly evolving – or at least they should be – because new technology is encouraged and easily accepted. Customers expect it and are willing to try something new.

With NASSCO, there is an approachability that encourages healthy dialogue. I know I can pick up the phone and talk to Lynn Osborn, NASSCO’s technical director, to brainstorm concepts that will help us all succeed through the betterment and constant evolution of standards.

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