At a hospital 100 miles away, worried sick about their son, the Beals family of Sioux City, Iowa, learned of yet another complication – their home was about to be flooded due to a water main break.
But Chris DeHarty, president of AFSCME Local 212 (Council 61), and an underground utility worker, stepped up to take care of things, going above and beyond his call of duty and allowing the family to be together for their infant’s medical tests.
For that, DeHarty is the winner of an AFSCME Never Quit Service Award.
Anxiety of Not Knowing
Lynette Tiede-Beals and her husband, Jim Beals, didn’t know what was wrong with their 1½ -year old son, Gregory.
He had been losing a pound a week for many weeks and had become dangerously underweight. Their local doctor in Sioux City couldn’t figure it out. The family was referred to the Children’s Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, so Gregory could be by specialists and given advanced tests.
The family spent nearly a week in Omaha seeing specialists. But the day before several tests were to be run, Tiede-Beals got a call from one of her co-workers at Sioux City’s 911 communications center, informing her about a water main break on her street. Her home was about to be under water.
“I just about lost it,” recalled Tiede-Beals, whose home had been flooded during previous water main breaks. “I was already so stressed out.”
Her husband, Jim, had planned to meet his family in Omaha that night after his shift as a front desk manager at the Holiday Inn in Sioux City. Now, however, as water surged across his street, that plan was in jeopardy.
‘Worry about your son. I’ll worry about your house.’
Luckily for the Beals family, DeHarty was on call that night.
DeHarty’s job involves repairing and inspecting sewer lines, water mains, often requiring confined space entry. It requires not only technical know-how, but a willingness to work in extreme conditions. That night, however, DeHarty brought something else to the job.
“I’d gotten a call for a sewer back-up, but when I turned the corner to [Beals’] block, I saw it was a water main break. There was 2 feet of water coming down the road,” DeHarty recalled.
DeHarty radioed his base and told them to start shutting off the water for that part of the city, and then he went door to door, notifying all the residents on the street about the break and checking their basements for flooding.
When he came to the Beals’ home, he met Jim, who explained the dilemma he was facing. Lynette was on the phone with him helping to figure out what he should do.
“When I heard what was going on with their son, there was no question: I’m going to do whatever you need me to do,” said DeHarty, a father of four.
DeHarty told Jim to leave his house key with him, promising to take care of everything. He didn’t want them to worry about their home; they had more important things to deal with.
“I told him to worry about your son. I’ll worry about your house,” said DeHarty.
Over the next two days, as Gregory underwent tests in Omaha, DeHarty and his team of city workers moved the Beals’ basement furniture above the water, set the dry furniture on pallets, pumped out water that had poured in, and restored the damaged items.
“He never did explain what he did [at our house] that night,” said Tiede-Beals. “It just got done.”
Giving Credit Where It’s Due
If the Beals’ leap of faith in a stranger was born out of necessity, DeHarty had few concerns about the job his crew was going to do. Up and down the water-logged block, his team was swift and professional.
Arriving home after their hospital stay, armed with a diagnosis for Gregory that was far less frightening than they’d anticipated (a slow-emptying stomach and acid reflux were the culprits), the Beals were given the keys to their home by DeHarty.
“Maybe it doesn’t sound like it, but to me, in that moment,” says Tiede-Beals, “it was a big deal. These guys don’t get enough credit for what they do. Their help really made a difference in my world.”
Tiede-Beals was so moved and impressed by the work of her fellow public service worker, that she became a dues-paying member of AFSCME.
Now, a decade later, Gregory is a healthy 12-year-old. When DeHarty sees Tiede-Beals around the tight-knit Sioux City community, he still asks her: “How’s the little guy doing?”
“I tell him he’s not so little anymore,” jokes Tiede-Beals.