Damon White

Title: Building Services Official III
Department: Catawba County Utilities & Engineering
Started with County: 2016

Share a little about what you do as a building services official.
Multi-trade inspections, basically from the ground up. Starting from footings to finals, anything from houses to decks, to garages, to commercial buildings. Whatever you see getting built, we inspect.

What inspired you to do this kind of work?
I grew up in construction. My dad was a superintendent for Matthew's Construction in Conover when I was born up until I was about seven, eight years old. Then he started his own business. I was just kind of born into it. All I've ever known is construction. I've always worked some kind of construction job.

What does an inspection involve? What are you looking for?
Code compliance with the North Carolina building codes. It's hard to get in depth about an actual inspection, because there's a lot of little pieces and components that go into it. It is verifying code compliance.

Code compliance sounds like it could be fairly complicated. How did you get up to speed?
It was a lot of study and book time, and classes for every level. The trades are building, electrical, mechanical, plumbing and fire. There's three levels in every trade. There’s a state mandated class that you have to take, a class test, and then a state exam. I'm on my last one now. It’s a lot to keep up with, so we are constantly in the code books. My primary trade is building and my secondary is electrical.

Did you go to school to get these certifications, or has that gone along with the work?
It’s gone along with the work. Starting here, you're required to have a level one in all four of the trades. After that, it's up to you to move forward. Whatever classes you want take are paid for by the county. It's really up to the individual. With every level you go up, you get a certain percentage of raise. The state dictates how fast you can go based on experience level. You can go as fast as the state allows, or you can go at your own pace.

What made you decide to work for Catawba County?
I went out to eat lunch one day and the county’s assistant chief inspector was there eating lunch. We talked about a job opening, because I had indicated to him that I wanted something more stable, more steady, with insurance and benefits. I was kind of tired of being a contractor, because you didn’t get any vacation. I had plans out on my kitchen table all the time. If we went on vacation, I took plans with me to work on bids. The phone never stopped ringing. When we talked, I asked him, “Would you do it again? Was it worth it?” I asked him because he had been in business for himself at one time, too. It seemed like he enjoyed his job and it seemed like a really good job that turned into a career. When I asked him that, he said yes. I thought, okay, well, that’s all I need to know. And here I am.

Has this turned into a career for you?
Oh, yeah. There would be no reason for me to ever leave.

What do you like most about what you do?
I get to meet new people all the time. You meet a lot of interesting people. But I guess it’s really the satisfaction of knowing that at the end of the day, I've helped make something better. Buildings are safe. There is a sense that you're helping make somebody's house safe. Same with businesses. People should feel safe in their homes and businesses and should never have to think about it. I think it's that little bit of pride in making sure the public's safe.

What do you like most about working for Catawba County?
I'd say it's just a good place to work. I work with a great group of guys, from the supervisors to the field inspectors. The pay and benefits are great, too.

When you started, you were a field inspector and then you went to plan review, and then you went back into field inspection. Talk about that journey.
There was an opening for a plan review position, and they started asking about it internally. [My supervisor] stopped by my house one day, and he stated we couldn’t find anyone to do plan review. I told him I would be interested in doing it. I was interested in learning the books, because in plan review, you're in multiple code books every day. It was a good way to learn the code books and get through a lot of the tests. I think that's one of the reasons why I was able to push through so many of the tests so fast, just the fact that I was in the books every day. It's like you get to study every day. Plan review for me was a way to get ahead.

What made you decide to go back into the field?
The office life really wasn't for me. I spent two years working inside, and I had never worked inside in my whole life. I was always out in the field. When the opportunity came up to go back out in the field, it was time. I was ready to get back out because I missed it. I really did. I missed interacting with contractors, seeing the projects go up, being part of that.

How would you characterize our work culture?
It is a great, fun work environment. On the commercial side of inspections, we all get together. When you do building finals for any commercial project, we all go together. We work in roughly two groups serving the east side of the county and the west side. Most of the time it’s the same group of guys. We see each other a couple times a week, we pass each other, we see each other on jobs. It is pretty close knit. At some point every day, we're talking to each other. Every time you do something good, you get recognized for it. You know, they're really good about that. Especially [our supervisors] are really good about that.

It seems that you are all relatively independent in the work you do, but you still feel like a team.
We are, and we rely on each other. Every guy out there has his strength. We're always kind of leaning on whoever has the strongest skills, in electrical or plumbing or mechanical. It is a team. It takes a team of inspectors who work pretty closely together, because a lot of what you're looking at is intermingled. If I need something, there's always somebody there to say, "I can take care of that," or "I can help you out."

If somebody came up to you while you were eating lunch out one day and said, "Hey, should I consider applying for a job with Catawba County?”, what would you tell them?
I would say absolutely. I wish I would've listened to my dad a lot sooner about going to work here or even for the State, like the D.O.T. or the road crews. What we have here at the County, the extra benefits that the county provides are really good. I would tell anybody that's interested. I'd even tell my son, because I've asked him what he wants to do. He said, "I don't know." And I said, "Well, you could always work for the county."

How old is he?

There’s still time. Is there anything else you want to add about working here?
It's just a good place to work. The hardest part about my job was getting through the tests and the certification process. But other than that, no complaints. There are days when you get frustrated, but for the most part it's way better than what I did before. I wouldn't think about going back. I love what I do. I wouldn't change it for the world.

Interviewed February 4, 2022