Reaching for His Inner MacGyver

Setting up Water on Wheels (WOW) Carts is a relatively easy task, especially for someone who has at least basic plumbing skills. After all, WaterStep designed these small, portable water treatment systems to be easy to deploy and operate during emergencies.

But what do you do when you need a plumbing part to extend the emergency water infrastructure and the hardware stores in the disaster area are either closed or have already sold out their inventories to everyone else who needs to repair things?

Tim Meyer said he reached for his “inner MacGyver.” Like the TV series hero known for solving engineering problems with common items, Meyer devised a fitting for a jet pump with a piece of plastic and some nylon zip cords.

Of course, Meyer has much more than just basic plumbing skills. During his 32 years with Louisville Water, he has worked every union job, including Emergency Turner, Plumber Leader, and Plant Operator. After he retired, he returned to the company as a part-time inspector.

He used his skills and shared his expertise during trips to flood-ravaged eastern Kentucky — and to different areas within the region.

“I drove a thousand miles in just a few days,” he said.

Working as both a Louisville Water employee and a volunteer, Meyer found destruction from the flooding that was “far and wide. Pictures don’t do it justice. Cars wadded up like toys. People just wiped out.”

But he said he also found resilience among the people of eastern Kentucky coupled with sincere appreciation for the help they were receiving from their neighbors throughout the state.

Five Days of Rain

Eastern Kentucky is a land of hills and hollers (narrow valleys cut by streams). From July 25 to July 30, a train of thunderstorms developed south of I-64 and brought heavy rain, flash flooding, and river flooding across the region. Rainfall rates reached more than four inches an hour. According to radar-based estimates from the National Weather Service, up to 16 inches of rain fell in a narrow swath.

Water that came down into the hollers destroyed power and water infrastructure as well as roads, bridges, and entire homes. At least 39 people died. A mother who survived in a trailer said she tied herself to her children. She told CNN she was thinking “I will either save us or, worse come to worse, we’ll be found together.”

Several Louisville Water employees have helped with efforts to restore water service in the region as part of a coalition of teams from utilities across Kentucky. Greg Heitzman, former Louisville Water CEO and now president of the consulting firm BlueWater Kentucky, has also been working in the flood-ravaged areas, and he knew another Louisville Water employee he could call who would be ready, willing, and able to help set up emergency water services.

Meyer answered the call and headed to Eastern Kentucky on August 5. He helped WaterStep ramp up a WOW Cart at the Homeplace Community Center in Hazard and at Buckhorn Children & Family Services. Both Hazard and Buckhorn are in Perry County. Meyer spent five days in the region and also set up emergency water equipment in the town of Mayking in Letcher County.

Each WOW Cart can provide up to 10,000 gallons of emergency water each day. Meyer helped set up a temporary infrastructure that is providing not only drinking water for residents who have lost everything but also water for washing machines, toilets, and showers .

“Whatever they need,” Meyer said.

Only Positive Pics

Meyer has a connection to WaterStep. His son, Ben, has worked at the organization’s Louisville headquarters through a Bluegrass Center for Autism program. Meyer also has several connections to eastern Kentucky. His wife, Valerie, grew up in the area. His daughter, Isabelle, attends Eastern Kentucky University. His daughter’s boyfriend, Alec Taylor, is from Hazard. A recent EKU graduate who’s headed to medical school, Taylor worked alongside Meyer as a WaterStep volunteer.

Meyer’s affection for eastern Kentucky and his determination to help it recover were evident on his Facebook page on day three of his trip.

“No more pics of destruction. We’ve seen enough,” he wrote. “Only positive pics.”

His Facebook feed is also full of praise for many other volunteers and first responders. He refers to several people he met as “a great guy” or “a wonderful guy.” After noting that the motto of the Viper Fire Department in Perry County is We’re People Serving People, he wrote, “What a great motto to live by.” He also praised Eastern Kentucky residents for their “super positive attitude.”

“The folks affected are overwhelmed by the support they are receiving and are really appreciative,” he said.

After returning to Louisville from the first trip, Meyer went back to eastern Kentucky on August 13 and stayed another two days. He scouted locations for emergency water service at the Happy Church in Clayhole, which is in Breathitt County.

MacGyver wasn’t just a genius engineer. He was personable. He valued friendship. He was always willing to help people in trouble. All of this could also describe Tim Meyer. He said he’ll continue to help in eastern Kentucky on weekends, maintaining emergency equipment as the region slowly recovers.

“Things are looking up,” he said, “but lots of work still needs to be done.”