He's found underwear, a purse, a bandanna -- but no Ninja turtles Master's in psychology helps sewer manager deal with unusual

September 27, 1992|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

A sense of humor sustains him, when all around him runs amok.

Amok happens when you manage sewer systems for the county's two smallest towns.

"The endorphins we get from laughter is the body's natural pain defense," said Francis Alfred "Fred" Haifley Jr. "Humor affirms our dignity, even when circumstances underwear us."

Mr. Haifley, a certified water and sewer plant operator, describes his "persona as humorous, earthy, bio-solid."

He also knows a lot about underwear. Less than 24 hours into his new job as sewer operator last May, he was extricating men's briefs from the sewer pumps in Union Bridge.

He repeats the onerous task at least once a week, while the mysterious flusher continues to wreak havoc with the town's aging pumps.

Worse still, copycat flushers are adding to the trouble. He said he chooses to laugh rather than cry about the murky situation.

"Laughter and making fun of things make it easier to bear," he said, noting that he found a way to poke a little fun at the flushers.

Mr. Haifley now has a clothesline hanging over the pumps. On it, he has pinned items retrieved from the inner workings of pumps. Many pairs of size 36 men's briefs, a bandanna, a purse, a dollar. The raggedy list drags on.

All the unclogging takes away from the real work of managing the plant.

"I am responsible for everything here, seven days a week," he said, adding that, as of today, he has worked 136 days straight, splitting an eight-hour day between New Windsor and Union Bridge.

His growing-up years, on a 95-acre farm in Manchester, prepared him for the hard, relentless work and constant emergencies, he said.

"Farm life is congruent with emergency situations," Mr. Haifley .. said. "When the cow is having difficulty delivering, you can't say 'wait until morning.' "

He still lives in Manchester.

Instead of cows, he now has chickens and three peacocks -- Honky, Tonky and Little Fred -- on a four-acre "spread."

He remains dedicated to Carroll County, although he has seen other parts of the world. After earning a master's degree in psychology from Towson State University in 1977, he said he needed a vacation. A friend suggested Hawaii.

"I landed in Maui on Ground Hog Day and didn't see a shadow," he said. "So, I stayed six years."

He found a job as a hotel wine steward and began what he called "an early retirement" -- surfing and biking by day and serving such luminaries as Willie Nelson by night. The singer once left him a $250 tip.

When he finally returned home, he knew it was to stay.

L "You miss your farm mud, if you are away too long," he said.

The six-year gap, between graduate school and working, made finding a job here difficult, he said.

Undeterred, he began his "eclectic mix" of professions, which includes truck driver and sludge hauler.

"Wastewater sounded interesting, and I decided to get my certification in water and sewer management," he said.

The Carroll towns hired him in May to oversee their different sewer operations.

As if the eight-hours back and forth on Route 75 weren't enough, Mr. Haifley added a stop in Westminster and another job to the schedule.

He realized a lifelong dream -- to teach in college -- when he was offered a part-time position at Carroll Community College.

"Two professions are better than none," he said.

So are two briefcases. An elegant alligator attache case holds term papers, psychology texts and classroom plans. A sturdy Samsonite holds all the information he needs to test samples and manage daily plant operations.

Teaching psychology also provides him a respite from sewer entanglements.

"My students are enthusiastic," Mr. Haifley said. "As the center of attention, I am never criticized, only encouraged."

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