At 40, Michael Fernandez may be young to be the deputy director of operations of Miami-Dade County Department of Solid Waste Management in Florida, but he has 20 years of experience in the industry.
“Michael is determined to provide the best public service,” says Johanna Faddis, Miami-Dade’s resource recovery administrator. “He is constantly looking for ways to improve the way we do business, whether it’s by installing onboard scales on transfer fleets, piloting aluminum trailers to maximize loads or piloting gaming cameras to curtail illegal dumping.”
Fernandez received a Waste360 40 Under 40 award this year and recently spoke with us about his role managing the largest government-owned integrated solid waste management system in the southeastern United States.
Waste360: What are your responsibilities as deputy director of operations?
Michael Fernandez: I oversee the county solid waste operations, which includes curbside garbage collection for over 340,000 customers, bulky waste pickup and single stream recycling. We oversee 13 neighborhood drop-off sites, and the disposal site is a huge disposal system, so I'm responsible for the plant. We have a resource recovery facility and a waste management facility.
It's a huge, huge operation. We manage about 1.8 million tons a year and have three landfills. We handle all incorporated Miami-Dade County as well as nine municipalities. I have a great staff, and I can't do it by myself, obviously. The department's close to a thousand employees, mainly field staff.
Waste360: Beyond the size of the system, what other challenges are specific to Miami-Dade?
Michael Fernandez: Hurricanes. In the preseason, we make sure our contracts, emergency contracts and supplies are in place. We'll do some test runs and simulations with our Emergency Operations Center partners. Then, we'll start prepping when the storm is 48 hours away. Typically, people want to start cleaning up their yard and start cutting everything down in preparation to a storm. It maximizes our system, creates long lines at the dumps and there'll be stuff all over the curbs. The last thing you want is the debris out there when the storm hits, so we go into a sweep mode to collect everything. At the same time, we can only leave our people out until winds reach 35 mph.
Then, we just hold tight, and once the storm passes, we assess the facility and make sure our infrastructure is okay. Then, our main goal is to try and open the facility as soon as possible, so we can start getting back into service again.
Waste360: Can you think of a challenge that you recently overcame?
Michael Fernandez: Getting onboard scales on transfer plates. When I first started working here as the senior division director over the transportation system, I noticed tractors were arriving at the disposal facilities way overweight or underweight. In the beginning, it was a safety concern. I was concerned these drivers were hauling overweight loads, and God forbid, they get into an accident and hurt someone.
I brought it up to the deputy director at the time, and we quantified an amount of what it would cost us and how the return on investment will pay itself off. Sure enough, a million dollars and a few years later, we outfitted our fleet’s 135 tractor trailers with onboard scales.
It's beautiful. They are coming in right at 80,000 pounds. We also double check the weight against the disposal site scale, which is regulated by the state. If we see a deviation larger than 2 percent, then we bring the tractor’s onboard scale in for calibration.
Waste360: What are you proudest of?
Michael Fernandez: That I started from the ground up. I was trying to become a firefighter, and it just didn't work out for me. That's when I started working in the private sector, and I remember getting a phone call from a temp agency and they were like, "Hey do you want to work at a garbage company?" I was like, "Garbage? I'm not going to pick up garbage."
I started in the office, and then worked my way out to the field when I became supervisor. I've driven garbage trucks, picked up roll off cans and picked up trash with a crane. I've pretty much done it all, and I've worked with some really good professionals along the way. It's been a long road, and I've still got a long way to retire. But I'm very proud that I started from the bottom and worked my way up to the top of a huge industry.