A woeful industry? 'Bah, humbug,' reply Web site visitors

May 12, 2000
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We often are deluged with tales of woe about the hvacr trade. You know, the pay isn’t good enough. The work is too hard. There is no glamour or glitz associated with the business. It’s demanding and stressful . . . yada, yada, yada.

It’s good to know that for every Excedrin Headache #9, however, there are proud and happy people working in the field. Proof is on the Web site heatinghelp.com.

Go ahead. Log on to the special discussion area called “On the Job,” where visitors are encouraged to share their work experiences with other hvacr tradespeople. Your holiday spirits should be lifted after reading these hvacr tales. (After all, ‘tis the season to be jolly, right?)

What follows are just a few of the “real life” accounts, which The News reprints with permission from the Web site’s owner, Dan Holohan.

Be thankful for what you have

“Many years ago, I was service contracting for several small oil companies. On this particular Christmas Eve it was my turn ‘in the barrel.’ I was on call.

“A no-heat call came in about 8 p.m. from a customer in one of the less prosperous ethnic communities of Boston. At the three-decker, a young woman greeted me and tried her best to explain the problem.

“As I walked through the apartment on my way to the basement, I couldn’t help but notice the sparse furnishings and bare wooden floors. Two young children wearing coats and mittens were sitting on the floor in front of the spindliest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen. No more than half a dozen small presents were neatly arranged under it.

“The problem turned out to be a stuck float in the low-water cutoff. After getting things back in working order, I returned to the apartment to inform the lady the heat was on its way.

“She thanked me, and asked if I would like a cold drink or maybe some coffee. Something made me accept her generosity, where normally I would politely decline.

“We chatted about the holiday, and she told of how happy she was this year because she finally had a job at a local supermarket and was able to give her kids a good Christmas. She went on to explain that she was making $3.55 an hour, and was so thankful she wasn’t like others who had to work for minimum wage. At that time, the minimum wage was $3.25. “She was happy and proud and further explained that her brother and his family were coming for dinner on Christmas day. She could finally afford to do that. “She opened the fridge to get some milk for the coffee, and I noticed how empty that fridge seemed. It contained a fair-sized roasting chicken, a few vegetables, the milk carton, and a six-pack of beer — ‘For the holiday,’ she beamed.

“Downing the last of my coffee, I got up to leave. Reaching for her purse, she asked how much she owed me. I told her that I would send her a bill after the holidays, and that she could pay it whenever she could.

“When I got home, I told my wife the story and we commented to each other that our three kids really didn’t appreciate just how fortunate they are.

“I never sent that lady a bill. It still sits here in my desk where I can see it every time I open the drawer.

“Night work, holidays on call, midnight nuisance calls, it all grinds on us after a while. But every once in a while you get a service call that puts things back in perspective for you, and you can’t put a price on that.”

-Mike Gallant

A little bit of everything

“I am 34 years old. I was an hvac technician for 14 years.

“For a year and a half, I was the chief engineer at a 500,000-square-foot office complex consisting of four-, seven-, and 11-story buildings. For the past eight months, I’ve been the service manager at a mechanical contracting company that has grown from two people in 1990 to nearly 100 people today.

“Which is to say that I have acted as a number of links in the chain of the piping trades, and I have done things that no ‘professional man’ would ever think of.

“I have repaired systems that have had problems since the day they were installed, long before I was even born. I have nearly lost my life. I’ve made cold families warm.

“I’ve fixed nearly everything in my house, my parents’ house, and my friends’ houses. I’ve found problems that could have killed my sister and her family through carbon monoxide poisoning. Another contractor missed those problems.

“I set my boss on fire during my first month in the trades.

“I used R-22 to fill up the tire on my truck so that I could get out of downtown Detroit after finishing a late service call.

“I designed the system that our company will use for maintenance inspections. I have stood on the highest point of the Buhl Building, 30 stories above the busy streets of Detroit.

“I’ve flooded an attorney’s office. I have been on a rooftop during a -20°F Michigan morning. I have been on a roof where my shoes sank into the tar that was melting in the noonday sun. I’ve crawled into a rooftop unit to avoid a storm that blew in while I was hard at work.

“I have fired a boiler with the panels off and watched in amazement as the flames licked at my boots. I’ve crawled into scale pits while semi trucks drove over my head, just to light pilots on heaters that snakes use to keep warm.

“I’ve been told the best way to avoid a cold is to drink a quarter cup of #2 fuel oil each day. (Please don’t try this at home.)

“I’ve worked for friends, corporations, rotten and cheating nasty people. . . . Now I work for the best possible mix of the above (with the exception of the nasty people).

“I have made friends that I will have for the rest of my life.

“I have never regretted having a job in the trades. I have stories that will entertain my grandkids and help to raise them. And these stories and all are true.

“Look deeply into your heart. Do you want a job that is an adventure without leaving your family to be at sea for months at a time? Do you want a job that can turn into a career that you never considered? Do you want the excitement of taking on the worst that Mother Nature has to offer?

“The postal service has a well-known slogan: Neither rain, nor snow, nor dark of night, and you know the rest. Well, I have met many more people that would rather have me get through to them on an icy day than their mail!

“Consider it. Consider it well. And remember, you don’t get many chances in this life to leave a lasting tribute. But being a part of a building — from a hole in the ground to the sign over the finished front door — sure is a nice way of showing your kids where you work.”

-Darryl Trombley

My friend Hazel

“One night, around 11 p.m., I got home from a real hectic day to have my wife meet me at the door. She told me that Hazel, whom the whole town knew would be 100 years old in two days, called about her refrigerator. She said it was leaking.

“Well, it was late and cold and I was exhausted — not to mention that the only thing I know about refrigerators is that you put warm beer in them, and a little while later, they come out cold.

“But this was Hazel, who lived just 1,000 feet from my house. As I walked toward her front door I could see her through the window. Her small, 99-year-old body was mopping like crazy. When I entered the house, which is as old as she is, I noticed that the floor was pitched toward the refrigerator. I also noticed a huge puddle of water.

“She explained that the water keeps coming and coming, and as I looked around, I noticed a stream of water flowing from the tall cast iron radiator that was right behind her. The water was coming from the key vent, which was wide open.

“I showed it to her, and then I shut it down. She told me that the radiator hadn’t been heating, so she had opened the vent and then forgot all about it. I took the mop from her hands and cleaned up the water.

“As I headed toward the front door she asked, ‘How much do I owe you?’ I smiled and said, ‘Happy Birthday, Hazel.’”

-Stephen Bingel

Sidebar: Let's stick together

“After quite a few years spent in poorly lit basements and many gut-wrenching side spins through whiteouts in the dead of the worst winters of my life, I discovered something. No one man can make ‘it’ happen by himself.

“I have worked alongside some of the best heating mechanics in the industry. We ate soot for lunch and washed it down with #2 heating fuel. Somehow, because I was part of a team, it never seemed to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

“I love what I do, and I am deathly loyal to those who do it by their own accord. It takes a special breed of cat to put your loved ones, your need for sleep, and food on a back burner because you are concerned about an old woman and her four grandchildren with no heat.

“Make no mistake about it, you are a special person, and this is an occupation that can make the difference between life and death when the weather is at its worst.

“That’s a pretty heavy burden to carry, and it makes it very important that we constantly seek knowledge so that we can improve ourselves as mechanics. We are the front-line defense.

“Taking what you have just read into account, I ask you now to look at the guy next to you in a way that may be different from the way you saw him before. He also has selected this tough trade.

“Maybe he started out just looking for a way to provide for his family, but he is now by your side. You need to stick together like glue, and help each other to achieve a common goal.

“This, in my opinion, starts with communication. There are no stupid questions. As professionals, we have to encourage our counterparts to seek knowledge, and help them along the way.

“Speaking for myself, the more I learn, the less I know. This is what has always kept me hungry for information. A greater man than I once said, ‘Knowledge is power.’ That motivates me more than I can tell you.

“Let’s help each other. Let’s pick each other’s brains, and when we can’t find an immediate answer, let’s look for it somewhere else.

“But most of all, let us never give up on our common goal of striving for excellence in everything we do.”

-Andrew P. Georges

Sidebar: Mechanic: my middle name

“All my life, I’ve loved things mechanical. Figuring out what makes things tick has always grabbed my attention. Figuring out why something is not working is even more exciting.

“I started plumbing with my grandfather when I was 12 years old and never looked back. I attended trade school where the instructor gave me a good feeling about the trade. He was proud of what he did and made all his students feel good about their future trade.

“Plumbing and heating challenges me every day, and it’s never boring. Troubleshooting is probably my favorite thing to do. Figuring out how the original installers designed a heating system to work and why it’s not working at this moment gets my juices flowing, especially if I’m the second or third guy to look at it.

“My work requires me to have knowledge of plumbing, heating, electrical, and hydronics, as well as chemistry and physics. Not many other occupations require so much.

“This trade has given me all the physical and mental challenges I could ever want.

“Being my own boss and running my own business has been tiring at times, but it has provided my family and me with all the things that make life great. And I can honestly say that I’m happy to get up and go to work each morning, ready to face new challenges.”

-John Feliciano

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