From CERT to city employee: Seminole’s new stormwater technician gets her start as a volunteer

Barbara Dunn, the city’s stormwater technician, got her start as a Seminole CERT volunteer.

SEMINOLE — As a child, Barbara Dunn dreamed of becoming a park ranger. The outdoors were a big part of her life, and the Largo High School graduate spent much of her free time at the beach or visiting one of Pinellas County’s parks.

“I grew up outdoors,” she said. “I remember Sand Key when it was just pine trees and dunes, and you could drive along Gulf Boulevard and still see the water.

As an adult, her life took a different turn, though. She worked, for a while, as the business manager for a private school on the beach before going into real estate. She starting her own real estate company, which was based in Belleair Bluffs.

Then, Dunn was forced to retire early after being diagnosed with lupus. 

“I was very sick,” she said. “The side effects of the treatments for it were almost as bad as the illness. So I learned to live with it and sort of retired. I let my real estate company go.”

Living in Seminole until two years ago, she remained involved in the community through volunteer work.

About four years ago, she learned about the city’s Community Emergency Readiness Team (CERT), which is run by Seminole Fire Rescue.

“It’s run through the fire department, and I have a lot of firefighters in my family, and it’s always interested me,” Dunn said. “It sounded interesting.”

Unfortunately, the class in Seminole was full at the time, she said. “I didn’t want to have to wait for the next training.

She signed up for CERT training with East Lake Fire Rescue, eventually transferring to Seminole’s CERT team. The CERT team is trained to serve the citizens of the greater Seminole area in a variety of ways, including by supporting emergency first responders, she said. “CERT is fabulous training. Seminole CERT does a lot of firefighter rehab.”

Next, Dunn signed up for the Citizens Academy, an annual six-week course that teaches Seminole residents about the inner workings of city government.

“Seeing all the different facets of the city, I just fell in love with it,” she said.

When it came time for her to go back to work, she knew she wanted to work for the city.

“I didn’t want to rebuild a real estate company,” she said.

To her delight, she was hired by the Public Works Department as a part-time maintenance worker in the city’s parks in June 2017. Her primary duties were maintaining the city’s three parks — City Park, Blossom Lake Park and Waterfront Park, which hadn’t opened to the public at the time, she said.

Several months later, in September, Dunn found herself bumped up to full time when Hurricane Irma struck the Tampa Bay area as a Category 1 storm.

“I went full time at that point,” she said. “I went literally from 20 hours a week to 60. But I had wanted to go full time, so it worked out perfectly for me.”

In February, she was promoted to stormwater technician, filling a position that had been open since the summer of 2018, she said.

She unexpectedly discovered that she “really love(s) stormwater.”

Dunn added, “I like to follow the water and the last couple of months with all the rain, I could actually follow the water and see how it interconnects and flows. It’s very interesting.”

In this role, she hopes to focus on public education. Residents don’t always realize “what they can and can’t do,” why rules like fertilizer bans are important, she said.

“Grass clippings, I’m out there looking for those a lot,” she said. “Everything that winds up in our streets flows back into our water system. If they blow grass clippings on the street and don’t collect them, code enforcement will visit them. But most people just don’t know the rules. A lot of it has to do with public education and I would like to build that part of it for the city.”