Life at Optimus Steel can be unpredictable and exciting every single day. Nobody knows that better than longtime employee Jack D. Huffman. He is the Environmental Specialist Coordinator. In this article, we want to highlight the work Jack and his department does, but more importantly we want to make everyone aware of the legacy he has created, a legacy that will continue after his well-deserved retirement in October of this year. Huffman has dedicated 43 years of his life to the mill, in fact, he is employee number 001 and proudly shares this fact in addition to carrying his employee tag every day. Jack started his career as an hourly employee running the onsite water treatment plant. He was responsible for the treatment and discharge of all the water at the plant. After working at the water treatment plant, Jack became responsible for the water treatment program managing all the potable and process water including working with the City of Beaumont, the Sabine River Authority and contractors to make sure the plant always had good quality water. When Jack became a salary exempt employee, he took on many more environmental responsibilities, such as waste and air compliance, spill response, special environmental projects, and wildlife protection.
“Environmental is everything, it is a lot like safety, everyone is responsible”, said Huffman. Huffman explained how important constant and consistent training is to that responsibility. He further explained how he must be tough, but fair. This is done with the utmost effort to ensure employees, the nearby Neches River and surrounding wildlife are kept as safe and unaffected as possible.
Huffman said, “It is important to hold everyone accountable to the same standard, even if it means shutting down production.”
“By the book” is the way Huffman works with employees even if that means the “book” of new regulations are regularly being changed. He is responsible for helping the Environmental Department constantly update their strategies and techniques to ensure these new regulations are complied with. Huffman attributes his longevity with the mill to this ever-changing “book” of regulations and his commitment to ensuring the environment is protected.
To maintain the wastewater and stormwater the environmental department runs more than 11,000 analysis a year which include checking metal, oil grease, and PH levels of the water twice a week. All the tests and regulations are only part of the job though, Huffman informs us. His job also includes removing snakes and other critters from offices, equipment, and other areas of the mill, then releasing them back into a safe environment.
Huffman fondly recalls a time where he had to herd a 5ft long female alligator that was resting in the middle of the road. He states he helped move her back into her environment with nothing but a PVC pipe to guide her. “You know what an alligator that size wants to do after taking a couple of steps? She wants to lay back down and rest!” he said laughing.
Another time, it was a group of cats that had decided to make the mill their new home. The amazing employees of Optimus Steel stepped up and showed how they not only have a strong work ethic but also hearts of gold. A few employees adopted the cats and kittens into their own homes.
There are many more stories just like these that show the true commitment Optimus Steel and its employees have to preserving and enriching the environment, with all of them supporting the vision of “Striving for Perfection in Everything We Do”, but none more than Jack Huffman. Thank you Jack for your service, your commitment to the team and the environment and the legacy you are leaving us!