#IAmWMC: Justin Downs, Incinerator operator - Wyoming Medical Center

#IAmWMC: Justin Downs, Incinerator operator

By Kristy Bleizeffer Jun 1, 2020

Deep in the bowels of Wyoming Medical Center, somewhere in the hospital tunnels beneath Conwell Street, Justin Downs cares for his baby.

It’s a temperamental tot. Each hour, Downs checks its temperature and records its vitals. He cleans it. Maintains it. Measures every ounce that goes into its mouth and, it seems, it’s always hungry. It devours 50 pounds of medical waste every 10 minutes, 300 pounds every hour and about 3,000 pounds every day. It requires constant supervision.

“I call it my baby, because I take care of it so much,” said Justin, the hospital's incinerator operator. “It’s like taking care of a baby sometimes because it can be so hectic.”

Wyoming Medical Center is the only hospital within 250 miles with a medical waste incinerator. Without it, we’d have to truck our waste to Denver for disposal. Justin fires the incinerator up at about 6 a.m. weekday mornings and runs it until his shift ends.Two other operators manage it in the evenings, and it burns waste from the hospital and the hospital clinics until about 9 p.m. It takes about six hours to cool down before Justin comes in to start the process anew. The bottom kiln burns at about 1,200 degrees while the top burns at about 1,800, leaving behind a fine sterilized ash. The energy it creates heats all of the hospital’s water.

“The exhaust goes through an extensive scrubbing system, which is a big diesel particulate filter and takes everything out of there. Inspectors come back every year to make sure we are within regulation.”

Justin started at Wyoming Medical Center four years ago, beginning in housekeeping and then joining the facility maintenance crew. About 8 months ago, the previous incinerator operator moved up to carpentry, and his manager asked if Justin would be interested.

Justin, who studied diesel mechanics and welding in school, accepted and went through the certification course.

“I love it. It’s usually a nice 85 to 90 degrees down there, but it’s not too bad. You get used to it.”

Health care is a team effort. Every step at the bedside depends on the work of dozens of others working in the background: Housekeepers, plumbers, financial counselors, food services, facility maintenance crews, case workers and many, many more.

“I feel like I have a big part in the care that goes on here. I’m the last stop in the process. Everything that comes from the patient rooms – trash, bio waste, everything like that – comes to the incinerator. If I didn’t do it, the hospital would have to spend a lot more money to take care of that waste,” he said.

“I love working at Wyoming Medical Center. We have a great crew in engineering and I always enjoy coming in. It doesn’t feel like work.

“It makes me feel good knowing that we care for the entire state. If someone is sick or injured, they are likely going to come to this hospital. Sooner or later, we are going to care for them or their family.”