group of people standing around baseball field having a meeting

Safety Hero: Kevin Wilks of Foothills Park and Rec

A mainstay at the district for the last 22 years, Kevin Wilks has worked at Foothills Park & Recreation District (FHPRD) in the role of Regional Parks Supervisor for the better part of a decade. To manage such a large establishment, a supervisor like Kevin needs to have a dedicated commitment to safety, professionalism, and his team. Luckily, he embodies all of those traits—one of many reasons why we selected him as the CSD Pool’s latest Safety Hero.

Although FHPRD has five different divisions that make up their Parks Department—Planning, Fleet, Urban Parks, Clement Park, and Regional Parks—Kevin is responsible for the Regional Parks division, which oversees two of the largest parks within the district.

In this role, he is responsible for Daniel L. Schaefer Athletic Complex and Robert A. Easton Regional Park. He is also a major player in the district’s safety committee, and co-heads the committee that corresponds to his own department. Additionally, he oversees a foreman and six other direct reports year-round. In the summer, that team grows to double the size.

However, Kevin’s job varies quite a bit and can place him in the field or in the office, depending on the day. In the field, Kevin can be found taking care of noxious weeds, maintaining two lakes and pump stations, or working with tournament organizers to hold events on the District’s ball fields. On the administrative side, Kevin is responsible for quarterly reports, personnel, and running safety meetings, which he holds in conjunction with the Urban Parks division.

We spoke with Colin Insley, the Director of Parks, Planning and Construction for FHPRD, about Kevin’s work ethic.

“[Kevin] works extremely well with other departments,” Insley said. “He is always there to help—within his department or outside of it.”

Serving the Wider Community

Kevin also acts as the liaison between the District and various other agencies and businesses. In this role, he has been working closely with the district wildlife ranger from Colorado Parks and Wildlife on what is trending in terms of wildlife issues, specifically related to coyotes or elk. Kevin also utilizes this partnership to inform his plans to stock Hine Lake yearly for recreational fishing.

He also works with ditch and reservoir companies for ditchwater delivery to the District. Through this partnership that Kevin has shepherded, all of the irrigation on Kevin’s athletic fields is done exclusively with ecologically friendly ditchwater.

“Kevin is a very smart man, a very good report writer. He looks for opportunities to save money and comes up with ideas. He enjoys administrative duties, but really likes working outdoors and assisting with projects,” Insley said. “He’s like a Swiss army knife.”

To understand how he handles his plethora of duties, we also spoke with Kevin’s nominator, the district’s Human Resources Manager Frannie Masters, about Kevin and what it’s like to work with him.

“Kevin is always very professional. He is always responsive and always comes off with a can-do attitude,” Masters said.

What prompted Masters to nominate Kevin for Safety Hero was the work she saw him put in regarding the district’s confined space policy. According to Masters, Kevin went above and beyond to identify the need for this policy and to execute it.

In this instance, Kevin’s department recognized the need for a policy and requested training, but according to Masters, it was quickly apparent that this was going to require more than a short training or webinar. “Kevin created a written policy and procedure that made sense for the confined spaces that exist throughout the District,” Masters said.

Leadership Through Perspective

For the district, it was a surprise how many confined spaces were around the property that they hadn’t considered as an issues before. The team at FHPRD started to look around and notice that some of these locations presented potentially dangerous situations to staff. Cue Kevin, with his proactive attitude.

“He said, ‘I’ll just take the bull by the horns and start putting together the policy’,” Insley said.

This isn’t the only time Kevin stepped up and acted quickly to solve a problem. Insley comments on how Kevin is always bringing up potential hazards and possible jobs, from the installation of speed bumps where there were none before to a potentially-dangerous pier at Hine Lake. Kevin alerted Insley about the pier, presenting pictures of the issue. Insley recommended that the pier be closed immediately, but when he told Kevin, Kevin had already closed it.

“He comes up with solutions that kind of work the best for everyone,” Insley said.

Safety from the Top Down

Kevin has been involved in implementing various policies with the management team, and it has become an official best practice at the District. He has also been instrumental in implementing the policy by helping to finalize the list of confined spaces, ordering and implementing air testers, and ordering, distributing, and posting confined space signs. What we see with Kevin is someone who recognized a need for improvement and updated policy where it was lacking.

Kevin is a model employee to supervise and work with, according to his coworkers. He is an employee that always provides context about the task at hand, helping situate the team correctly for each task.

“For myself, who is new to the industry, it’s really nice to have someone like Kevin in safety meetings,” Masters said.

Kevin has done a lot to change the safety culture at FHPRD. In recent years, they have seen a decrease in the number of claims. To keep awareness up, Kevin involves the entire team in safety meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“Our parks department really takes a lot upon themselves,” Masters said. “They hold monthly safety meetings in each department. They are quick to follow any guidance we put out. They have also been proactive in ordering supplies, disinfectant, and sanitizer [for COVID-19].”

His work also translates to the various Safety Committees that Kevin is a part of. Kevin leads the charge in his department, and attends each meeting held by the district as a whole. Originally, a safety committee was first started in the ‘90s, but by the time Kevin entered his current role, there was a need for something more.

“We were seeing workers’ comp claims rising and were wanting to do something to not only draw attention to more safety issues, but also as a means of caution,” Insley said. “Kevin came along with another supervisor and kicked it up a notch.”

Through Kevin’s supervision, a comprehensive safety program was created with safety meetings held once a month. At these meetings, staff talk about recent happenings and necessary improvements, and Kevin even quizzes the staff members on the spot to test their knowledge.

“He tries to make it engaging and keep it at the top of your mind, so you’re not out doing your job and not focusing,” Insley said.

Beyond the safety committees, Kevin is always seeking out ways to improve aspects of district operations in the name of safety. One example was a situation in winter where bus drivers were slipping and falling on ice. He redesigned the way buses were parked to give them the opportunity to clear the snow and ice. Similarly, he rearranged bus parking to prevent exhaust from entering the buildings. It’s not only ideas, but the execution of ideas, that show how Kevin is always working to improve.

“He is a great partner,” Masters said. “Always receptive and forward thinking to get a job done.”

A True Safety Hero

Above all, Kevin is a pragmatic leader, and when people talk about places for improvement, he doesn’t take those discussions as a personal attack on his position or his job up to that point. It’s simply something to add to his to-do list. This is just another trait of Kevin’s that makes him a great employee to work with and really stand out among others—something that is apparent to all that work with him.

“He’s just got a really big heart for people,” Insley said. “He understands people very well. He’s looking out for everyone else, and always makes sure things are fair and equitable.”