Angela Deahl isn’t a coffee drinker.
Her six years in the Navy didn’t get her hooked on the stuff, and neither did years of shift work.
Instead, she seems to be powered purely by professionalism and dedication to her job.
It’s an important one.
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Deahl, 35, is an equipment operator at the Columbia Generating Station near Richland, the only commercial nuclear power plant in the region.
She pulls a mix of day and night shifts, helping make sure the equipment that makes the place run is operating properly.
She goes on rounds, taking down data points.
She checks and double checks.
If a piece of equipment needs to be worked on, she makes sure it’s taken off line so it’s safe to do so.
The Herald visited Deahl at 3 a.m. on a recent morning.
Getting to her took some time, including passing through multiple security areas and completing a safety briefing.
Deahl was nearing the end of her shift; she’d started at 6 p.m.
After hard hats and safety goggles were passed around, she took her guests through her stomping grounds, starting in the turbine building.
She was a willing guide, though she seemed a bit shy about all the attention.
“I don’t know what to say. So I guess I’ll just start talking,” Deahl said, standing in front of several large pieces of machinery with all sorts of gauges.
“We’ve got three air compressors here. Normally, one’s in service. We have three for redundancy, in case we want to take one out for maintenance or in case one of them fails, or for backup,” she said.
She showed air receivers and reactor feed pumps.
To a newcomer, the plant is a maze of complicated machinery, of long hallways and elevators and heavy doors.
To Deahl, it all makes sense.
You come to work and every day there’s something new. Something you have to figure out. Something broke you have to fix.
She joined the Columbia Generating Station, which is a project of Energy Northwest, in July 2014.
A native of Spokane, Deahl enlisted in the Navy out of high school, serving as a nuclear machinist mate.
Training took her all over the U.S. She was stationed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, a carrier out of Everett.
After leaving the service, Deahl went to work at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in Southern California.
She was there eight years before heading to Washington when the plant closed.
Energy Northwest has about 1,100 employees, and an estimated one-third are military veterans like Deahl.
The agency boasts a diverse portfolio of energy-producing projects, including the generating station, which is on leased land at the Hanford site and makes enough electricity to power the city of Seattle. The plant is the third-largest electricity generator in the state.
It has 39 equipment operators; Deahl is one of just a few women.
“In this industry, (that’s not unusual),” she said. “When I was on the Lincoln, there were between 25 and 30 (women) at any one time, in a department of 500.”
Deahl has a quiet strength about her. She seems self-assured, squared away.
She has goals at the plant: keep at it, gain more experience.
Eventually, she would like to become a reactor operator.
Deahl said her job is a good one.
She likes the schedule. She likes her co-workers, whom she praises as smart, capable and funny.
It’s demanding but rewarding, she said.
“You come to work, and every day there’s something new. Something new going on. Something you have to figure out. Something broke you have to fix,” she said. “You never stop learning.”
24 Hours series
Over the next several months, Tri-City Herald photographer Sarah Gordon and reporter Sara Schilling plan to document 24 hours in the Tri-City area, spending a different hour of the day with a different person.
They’ve sought diverse subjects — people from different backgrounds, with different jobs, different interests, different stories.
The men and women they’ve found reflect the Tri-City community. They are the community.
So, what will their hours tell us — about who they are, about who we are?
We hope you’ll follow along and find out.
The first six installments of the series — we’re calling it 24 Hours — will run in print and online this week, covering midnight through 5 a.m.
Watch for three more installments down the road.