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Portland Water Bureau

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Women in Trades: Meet Sarah Poet, Utility Worker II

Each year, the Women in Trades Career Fair brings together tradeswomen from across the Portland metro area who volunteer to help girls and young women discover the fun and life-challenging opportunities of a career in the trades.

This year’s career fair was held last month on May 19 and 20.

For more than 13 years, women from the Portland Water Bureau have been a key part of this unique event with the goal of promoting and supporting the advancement and employment of women in the trades.

Today we’ll meet Sarah Poet, a Water Bureau tradeswoman and volunteer at this year’s Women in Trades Career Fair.

Portland Water Bureau construction workerWhat is your role at the Water Bureau?

My official title is utility worker II in the Maintenance and Construction group. I also teach first aid CPR for the City, drive the tour bus for the Bull Run Watershed Tours several times a month in the summer, and I fill in for emergency dispatch as needed. [Editor’s note: Emergency Dispatch is the group that send out calls to our maintenance crews for water emergencies.]

How did you first get involved in the trades?

The short answer is that a friend at the Water Bureau let me know about a job opening that was available, so I applied and was hired.

The longer story is that I volunteered and worked for the U.S. Forest Service and City and State fire agencies for 23 years. I was a hot shot and deputy state fire marshal, conducting fire investigations across the state. I married and quit my jobs to raise my kids.

After divorcing, I needed to re-enter the workforce. From my past work in the fire service, I was used to being wet and muddy and working long hours. This was during the Great Recession, so it wasn’t easy finding work. But eventually I found a job at the Water Bureau and have been here ever since.

Many people ask me why I didn’t get back to the fire service. The reason is that, as a firefighter, you sometimes have to drop everything at a moment’s notice to go across the state for weeks at a time. Your schedule is unpredictable and that wouldn’t work for raising a kid.

The Maintenance and Construction work is more predictable, offers me good pay and benefits, which is perfect for me and my family.

Portland Water Bureau utility workerDescribe your typical day for us. What does that look like?

My typical day begins at 6:45 a.m.

I come in to our Interstate Facilities building, meet in the auditorium for daily announcements, then I get a daily log sheet that tells me where I’m going and what I’m doing that day. Even though we have a log sheet, what I do on any given day can change at a moment’s notice, depending on maintenance needs in the field.

I’m assigned to the Outer Northwest district and I usually work on one or two jobs each day. I do everything from drive a dump truck—hauling rock or other materials—to locating utilities like power and gas by using my spade to carefully dig under the marked utility locates to ensure they are accurate so the backhoe can safely excavate around them.

What are the barriers that you see as the largest impediments to more women working in the trades? Has that changed over time?

Maintenance and construction is a rough environment, and not everyone is cut out for it. You have to work hard and understand that men and women work differently together. Women tend to be thoughtful and communicative, while many men just want to get the job done. It’s a challenge to find the right balance sometimes.

How do you see fellow tradeswomen supporting each other in the work you do?

I see women supporting each other a lot, just by talking to one another and “comparing notes.” You quickly find other women to confide in and it’s nice to know other women have your back in the field.

What or who is your greatest professional inspiration?

When I worked for state fire marshal Nancy Orr, she brought in a ton of opportunities., including the chance to work on law and policy. She also promoted me to Fire Leadership Academy training.

What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in your field?

Prepare for hard work. Prepare to get wet and muddy. Prepare yourself mentally for long hours and the labor that goes with it.

If you take care of yourself and understand that some days will be rough, and other days can be a lot of fun, it can be a really rewarding career.

Mother with young childYou probably get to interact a lot with the public when you’re out in the field. What’s a story or two that stands out to you?

Yes!

I was helping dig a hydrant to replace it off NE 62nd Avenue and Glisan. It was a nice day, and people were walking with their kids with strollers and they began to stop and check out what was going on. People love to see how we do our jobs. Little kids especially love to look down and see what we’re up to. SO we take the time to show them where the hydrants are connected, and what we have to do to get it out. Kids love it!

People can be very generous when you’re out in the field working hard. I’ve had people give us fresh fruit from their yard!

What else do you want to share about work and/or your personal life (family, hobbies, etc.)?

I have a six-year-old son named Gracen and a nine-year-old son named Michael. Together, we care for a golden retriever named Daisy. I like to hunt and fish, and just went hunting with my son for the first time last year.

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