Hampton, Va. – Extraordinary. Above and beyond their call of duty.
Those are just a few of the words used to describe city employees after an anniversary ring accidentally flushed down the toilet recently was recovered last month by city Wastewater workers nearly four days later. It was “kind of like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Jason Mitchell of Wastewater Operations in the Department of Public Works.
It all began about 11:30 p.m. on a Friday when the ring was flushed by a Richmond-area woman who was visiting family in Hampton. “We employed a professional plumber to begin the search for the ring,” the woman later wrote in a letter to city officials. But they couldn’t get to it. “At that point we considered the ring to be lost forever,” she wrote.
Because they didn’t think Public Works would be open on the weekend, the woman and her family waited until almost 1 p.m. the following Monday to make a call to the city’s 3-1-1 Customer Call Center. The call-takers at 3-1-1 transferred the call to Mitchell and his staff.
Cynthia Laurrell, manager of the Call Center – which operates seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. – said they didn’t know what the staff in Wastewater Operations would be able to do, but they knew that Hampton has a “can do” attitude.
Mitchell told the family he wished they had called when the accident happened, because he would have sent an emergency crew out to search for the ring on Saturday. He sent a crew out anyway on Monday afternoon. They didn’t find the ring.
On Tuesday, Mitchell and the wastewater workers tried again. This time, the family was told to run water into all the drains and to flush everything in the house while city workers set up a debris trap down the line.
It was a long shot, but when the debris was finally examined back at Wastewater headquarters, “there it was,” Mitchell said. “They were extremely fortunate.”
In her letter to city officials, the ring’s owner wrote: “We cannot express enough gratitude to everyone who had a role in recovering this very special ring to us. It’s not only the monetary value of the ring, but also the sentimental value that could not be replaced. … Please do anything and everything you can to acknowledge their dedication, honesty and hard work.”
In addition to being recognized by their supervisors and others, including Public Works Director Tony Reyes, each of the Wastewater employees received a $25 “Delightful Dollars” gift card from the city. The awards program recognizes employees whose actions at work are beyond the job responsibilities, requires significant time, effort or resources, or shows creativity in finding a solution for a customer.
Mitchell said a recovery like the one involving the ring is rare – happening maybe three or four times in the last 20 years. But it does happen.