Paratransit Van Operator Alex Henry is no stranger to national emergencies.
Before joining Spokane Transit, he worked as a merchant mariner and boat captain, and supported FEMA emergency relief efforts by delivering supplies to victims of catastrophic events like Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, and the Ebola outbreak in Angola.
Now he finds himself once again delivering much-needed supplies — this time in the Spokane Region during the coronavirus emergency.
“When COVID-19 first hit we had to stop, reset and develop a solid game plan,” said Henry. “Honestly, I was blown away by how quickly STA was able to get the proper safety protocols in place.”
Henry moved his wife and young son from Louisiana to Spokane in 2017 and he was soon hired as a member of Spokane Transit’s Facilities and Grounds crew.
“STA gave me my first land job in 10 years,” Henry said. “It was the right time and place for me to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was very fortunate to end up here.”
Henry knew that he ultimately wanted to work with the public and get to know his new community. Becoming a Paratransit van operator fit the bill. Now, two years later, he’s also vice president of his union, AFSCME Local 3939, and a safety committee member. If a van operator has a safety concern, they go to Henry.
“I try to be very responsive to the concerns of our van operators,” Henry said. “The bottom line is, if they don’t feel safe, the public won’t either.”
When Paratransit van operators wanted to know more about disinfectants, Henry helped create an advance training class that explained STA’s stringent safety standards and Material Safety Data requirements.
“We don’t just try things willy-nilly,” Henry said. “Each product must be thoroughly documented and rated for safe usage and our operators and customers need to know that.”
When the coronavirus hit, Henry got new assignments. Now, on a typical day, he’ll do an early morning van trip for Paratransit customers, then deliver up 18-20 meals for Meals on Wheels.
“You get to know your customers and their special requests: come in through the back gate, ring the bell three times then step back six feet, watch out for the dog,” said Henry.
“It’s those little quirks that keep things interesting.”
Once the meal deliveries are made, Henry is back on the road, taking more Paratransit customers to their essential destinations.
“I’m thrilled to be able to help anywhere I can,” Henry said. “We’re very fortunate. I have to credit our CEO, E. Susan Meyer, and our supervisors, who found creative ways for us to help out and make a difference. We never missed a beat.”
In March, as worries over COVID-19 mounted in the Spokane region, Henry worked with a team of five Paratranstit van operators assigned to disinfect buses arriving at STA Plaza.
“We took the time to talk with customers and the public to explain what we were doing and that we were there for their safety,” Henry said.
Whether he’s disinfecting buses, delivering meals to those in need or taking his customers where they need to go, Henry is happy to be helping his community get through this challenging time.
“Once I put on this uniform, I’m representing STA and I’m representing myself,” Henry said. “People see that and know that STA does care, and we do.”