You can’t be in this industry too long without hearing or initiating this familiar conversation. You’re in a group of people in a business or social setting, and the topic of professions comes up. Someone mentions how we could not get along in our lives without the ultra-important collection of doctors and surgeons we have to keep us alive and healthy. After everyone nods in agreement or a story or two about a medical visit or procedure is recounted, you or someone else in the industry invariably says, “I’d like to see that surgery performed in a room that lacks proper temperature and humidity control or ventilation.”

What follows is the anticipated look on everyone’s faces when they pause and think about what was just stated. Your whole countenance settles into one of complete victory and success as people realize that maybe you’re not just some aluminum siding salesman looking for their next victim. Finally, the long-awaited “Wow, I never saw it that way before” seals the deal.

Up until March of 2020, this exchange was one of the few times the importance of our industry was ever fully realized or acknowledged. But we live in a new world now, and things seem like they will never be the same post-pandemic. Pre-pandemic, the only people who were considered “essential” were those directly related to public safety and our basic infrastructure. Fire, rescue, and police initially come to mind, along with nurses, doctors, hospitals, and a host of government positions required to make sure life as we know it continues in some fashion. When the world came to a screeching halt mid-March of 2020, it was clear that these were the occupations that had signed up for the designation as “essential.”

But after a few days, we in the HVACR industry had a bit of an epiphany.

“Wait a minute — we’re essential, too.”

Initially, the federal government did not even acknowledge it. Fortunately, the Air Conditioning contractors of America (ACCA), of which I am a past chairman, stepped up to the plate and made sure, on behalf of all contractors nationwide, that we obtained the designation. All of a sudden, it became apparent that that joke we had recounted so many times was really not a joke at all; it was true.

I know most of us who manage HVACR companies always knew, deep down, that the world could not get along too well without our services. In fact, when this pandemic first struck, I remember saying, “Pandemic or no pandemic, when things get hot outside, people will not go without their precious air conditioning.” But I don’t think that our team members on the “front lines” ever really considered themselves of much importance. Boy, were they wrong. They are certainly essential and deserve all the same credit and accolades that have been bestowed on our nation’s first responders.

However, there is another side to this revelation. I remember having a frank and important conversation with one of our highly valued service technicians. He was, understandably, expressing his concern with going into people’s homes multiple times a day. While the office and warehouse staff are certainly needed and are a big part of making things happen each and every day, their exposure to the public is fairly limited, and some of them are able to do their jobs completely from the safety of their home. But as we know, our team in the field can sometimes go into five or 10 homes or businesses each day, exposing them to any number of people.

And these people have attitudes and habits that are completely beyond any control we think we may have. While we can establish and implement all the proper personal protection policies we want in an effort to keep our team and our customers healthy, we have no idea what attitudes or personal practices our field people are walking into.

Going into multiple homes and businesses every day exposes our front line team members to an unpredictable and unprecedented danger. When a person goes to school and becomes a nurse, doctor, or first responder, there is a very real awareness that they are signing up to be exposed to a host of germs and viruses. They know this going in and are made aware of the associated risks. They also know that in the event of a health crisis, they are signing up to be put at risk.

I myself made a conscious decision to enter the HVACR field after attending college. I obtained a job at a local service company, worked in the field with some very talented mentors, and attended a trade school at night. I have no recollection of any discussion whatsoever even hinting that during a global health crisis, I would be required to put myself and my family at risk to go to work and make sure my fellow citizens had air conditioning. Yet as crazy as that sounds, it is unquestionably our “new normal.”

We all need to be grateful to and grateful for our front-line first responders of the HVACR industry. It’s been a tough few months navigating this new world. They are out there every day, putting themselves in potential risk to make sure our nation is cool and comfortable and safe. I’m not expecting to see any public support or lines of people standing on the roads that lead to our shops with signs saying “Thanks for keeping our homes and businesses comfortable.” But hey — a little appreciation and acknowledgement to our field personnel would go a long way. I, for one, am standing on my desk applauding and shouting, “Thank you, and job well done!”