Michael Collins

When you’re a facility maintenance foreman at Chickamauga Dam, no two days are alike. One day it might be water leaks and broken pipes. The next, it might be malfunctioning air conditioners in the dead heat of summer. Another, it could be sewer problems, or swarms of angry wasps. You just never know what the day will bring. And that’s exactly what puts a smile on Mike Collins’ face.

“My nickname's Smiley, and it has been ever since I was a kid. I have a loving wife, Missy, and three great kids. My whole family loves wakeboarding on the lake, and they love fishing, too. I've wanted to work at TVA since I was a kid.”

Maintenance Mission Critical

Perhaps not everyone would enjoy facilities maintenance so much—especially working on structures that are decades old—but Mike Collins is truly enthusiastic about his job. “It’s challenging; it’s different every day,” says Collins, who started at TVA as an HVAC contractor and has now been a TVA employee for five years. “One day you’re facing a busted water main, working until it’s done, no matter how long that takes, because you’ve got to get it back up for the labs and for fire protection. The next day you’re taking a minute to replace a torn American flag out front before starting on some routine maintenance.”

Collins sees his role as critical to TVA’s success. “My goal is to make Chickamauga have its very best environment for the people here,” he says. “People should come to work and think, ‘I work in a nice place.’ You have older equipment in some places and we have to figure out how to maintain it—there’s not always an owner’s manual. You’ve got to use your knowledge to get it running.”

Despite unpredictable and sometimes stressful days, Collins lives up to his childhood nickname: Smiley. “Because I smile a lot, I guess. It’s followed me since I was only 7 or 8. Now sometimes people say, ‘Hey, Mike,’ and I don’t even turn around!”

A Steward of Facilities

The TVA commitment to stewardship makes many people think only of natural resources. But TVA maintenance crews play an important role in the stewardship of TVA resources by caring for dozens of buildings as well as the environments around them.

One day last year, Collins remembers, kicked off with a ruptured sewage line. “That same week, the HVAC went out at Chickamauga and it was over 90 degrees outside. We worked all night to fix it," he says. "The next day we thought we’d have a quiet day in the cool air, do some training, and then a water main broke—there was water pouring into the parking lot. Took 14 hours to fix it. That week was unbelievable.”

Collins did all he could to maintain calm, cool environments among his staff and inside the buildings, a key aspect of his job. In the case of the ruptured sewer line, he also worked to keep any waste from getting to the river—a more overt example of his stewardship role.

Collins has three facilities maintenance technicians on his team. The TVA team also oversees contract vendors during infrequent times when additional expertise or support is required.

Normally, much of what the team does is routine maintenance—such as it is. “We take care of over 30 substations and microwave stations, and some of those are in rural areas.” Collins says. “It can take you 30 minutes driving up a dirt road from the main road just to get there. They’ve got to be functioning in case we need emergency communications.”

No Such Thing as a Routine Day

But there are always unexpected challenges, especially where water is concerned.

“The big tower at Chickamauga—an altitude valve stuck one day. It’s the booster for fire protection,” Collins explains. “The valve stuck wide open and water was pouring out of the overfill—it was raining inside. That probably took six or seven hours to fix. I had to take apart that valve and rebuild it because it was stuck.” As it happens, he says, you can’t just buy these parts off the shelf.

“Millions of wasps got washed down from the tower by that water,” Collins laughs. "They’d been inside the wall. Luckily for us, the water stunned them."

While he’s working to fulfill the TVA mission of service and stewardship, even furious wasps can’t get Collins down. He loves his job and feels blessed to have it. “I’m always jumping down into trenches wanting to do the work,” he says—smiling. “It’s just part of me—I like to work.”

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