Bright red fire hydrants are hard to miss, just like Madison Water Utility Pump Operator Kara Jafferis. Not only is her spunky personality infectious, her skills and knowledge about how water works may have you thinking differently about the resources that comes out of the faucet.
“We have a bank of 16 computers. We are basically monitoring the entire Madison water system in real time, Jafferis said. “We can see every well. We can see what every well is doing. We can turn on the pumps. We are able to watch chemical feeds.”
Knowing about the water in this way didn’t happen over night for Jafferis, it took a lot of work in the field, now in the office, as she climbed her way two decades (years at the city) to her responsibilities now.
“We’re kind of at the heart of the [Madison] Water Utility, where we work with all sorts of departments,” Jafferis said.
Her heart wasn’t always in the water industry.
“After high school, I went to college, and then during the summer after college, I applied for the City [of Madison] to be an hourly [worker],” Jafferis said. “I got a call from the Madison Water Utility asking if I wanted to paint fire hydrants. I took a chance. I needed money. I was a college student!”
Jafferis may have been sure she wanted to make money, but she wasn’t quite sure what exactly she wanted to do.
“I was not interested in water at all,” Jafferis said. “I didn’t even think about it, and like most people, took it for granted that it came out of the faucet, and I was good with that.”
The Madison Water Utility hired the Madison native, and kept promoting her through the system. Jafferis worked as a public maintenance worker, meter mechanic, on-call coordinator and pump operator. In the process, she stumbled across another unique opportunity: meter madness and fire hydrant hysteria competitions held at national water conferences.
“They basically time you to see how fast you can put a meter together,” Jafferis said. “There is a division between men and women’s tapping, where you are tapping a water main. They’re timing you. In the real world, it’s not a timed event.”
Jafferis said there are not nearly as many women than men in the industry, it’s clear with the larger amount of mens teams them women nationwide in the friendly competition, but she enjoys working together and meeting other women to grow the competition and the industry.
“For hydrant hysteria [competition] they time you putting a hydrant together,” Jafferis siad. “[Being involved] It helps me promote women in Water. It helps promote the utility, and gets interest in what we do and the equipment that we use.”
Like the conference competitions, there are more men than women working for the City of Madison Water Utility.
“I can remember when I first came to Madison Water [Utility], there were very few women, 2 —3,” Jafferis said. “[Now], we do have a few more … The one thing I like about the Water Utility is there is good camaraderie, and they’re very welcoming, for a male-dominated place.”
As part of her career climb at Madison Water Utility,
Jafferis said she’s really proud to have been the first woman to hold the position, but she hopes she isn’t the last.
“If you’re interested and you like and think that you can excel at it, even though it’s out of the norm that women might not do this stuff, I would say go for it,” Jafferis said.
Every woman’s career climb in the construction industry can look different, and does, but each person has paved, or in Jafferis case, painted her way to a space where she can help others grow, that too, is necessary and noticeable, just like a red fire hydrant.