DALLAS-FORT WORTH, TX — The temperature was hovering near the 70Â°F mark on a Saturday morning in late October. Dallas was waking up to an overcast day and wet pavement — two unusual sights in mid-autumn. But this day had a special feel to it, and optimism filled the air.
The reason for bright spirits was the 10th-annual “Heat the Town” program, sponsored by Dallas and Fort Worth members of the North Texas Chapter of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). The program is geared toward the elderly and disabled residents of these two communities who cannot afford repairs on their basic heating systems.
On this day, 20 contractors were represented by over 70 service technicians, parts runners, and other assorted workers who volunteered their time to lend a hand to the needy citizens of Dallas. In nearby Fort Worth, employees representing 12 contractors joined forces to do the same. Workers in both locations also helped serve breakfast and staff the telephones.
The people in Fort Worth assembled at AirRite Air Condi-tioning, owned by incoming national ACCA president Larry Taylor. His son, Toby, and wife Beth coordinated the program.
I was stationed at the Dallas checkpoint, Kahn Mechanical Contractors, owned by Ann Kahn, and host of the program for the past nine years. Jose Gonzalez, of TDIndustries, coordinated the Dallas effort.
On this morning, Suanne Durham and Angela Page from the City of Dallas’ “People Helping People” addressed the workers, who assembled for breakfast and service assignments. The organization was responsible for lining up 91 homes that needed repair work done on the heating systems.
Durham said each individual had to be screened to determine if he or she would be eligible for the assistance. “Our program involves exterior home repairs, and we get people from self-referrals, the city compliance department, and other nonprofit organizations,” she said.
“These people must be 60 or older, or disabled, and must be a homeowner within the city of Dallas. We send a case worker out to visit them and they do a full needs assessment.”
Page said there is little doubt that some homeowners need help right away. “The average income is $500 to $600 per month,” she stated. “If they get up to $900, I tell them they are doing real well.”
Before the team leaders and group members headed out, Gonzalez added a few words of inspiration, followed by a brief presentation by Chuck Lee of the Dallas Fire Department (DFD). Lee advised technicians what to look for in each home because “they may not believe what they see.” He also reminded workers to look for operating smoke detectors, spatial separation between heaters and other objects, and proper hose connections.
Hvacr students from Eastfield College, a local votech school, also joined the various crews for some “on-the-job” training experience. Instructor Larry Jeffus was there, acknowledging his current students, as well as several former students now working for area contractors.
Hitting the RoadI was given the assignment of following technician Darrell Cannon of ETC Mechanical/Blue Dot Services and his assistant, Frank Mauri. Accompanying us was Patrice Pruitt, executive director of the North Texas ACCA Chapter.
Our first stop was a visit to the home of 81-year-old Rachel Woods. The elderly African-American, almost totally blind Dallas resident had no heat in her home since the end of the past winter season. Woods, a 40-year resident of the modest one-story home, sat patiently with her dog Spotty while Cannon and Mauri surveyed the Williams Wall Heater, which had been installed in the home in 1993 and provided heat for the front two rooms of the five-room home.
While Woods chatted about her life with Pruitt and the entourage, Cannon replaced the thermocouple, removed a thermocouple safety switch (which he will return to replace at a later date) and also replaced the fan limit switch. He had brought out a spare fan motor but found the original to be in good working order. He concluded that it was necessary to replace the fan blade, which had been pushed back on the shaft and had a “wobble” to it.
What struck me in a positive way was that Cannon, along with many of the service techs that day, had little experience working on the wall heaters, which made up a large percentage of the malfunctioning units in the homes visited by “Heat the Town” technicians. Yet they all managed to perform the required repairs or suggest future service needs. The Williams unit was the third of its kind that Cannon had worked on.
Woods was a very kind host and thanked the volunteers for their work. With her heat up and running, she doesn’t have to worry about any cold days in the upcoming North Texas winter season.
Stop number two was at the home of an elderly Hispanic couple whom the North Texas ACCA Chapter had helped earlier in the year during their “Beat the Heat” program. Ruth and Tony Cruz had needed an air conditioner to battle the brutal summer heat, and the ACCA group had responded by installing a window unit.
In fact, it was secured so well that when Mrs. Cruz went into the hospital for heart surgery, thieves breaking into her home stole two fans and other items (including her dentures), but couldn’t remove the window unit, despite ripping apart the window frame.
On this day, the Cruz’ two “Dearborn heaters” were not operating correctly. The flames in the 40-plus-year-old units were not working at proper capacity to warm up the ancient ceramic heating elements. One unit was in the home’s rear bedroom and the other in the front living room.
Mr. Cruz had shut off the gas from a makeshift valve behind the living room unit. Upon inspection, Cannon noted that some of the ceramic elements were damaged and needed replacing. He phoned in a parts request to his supplier. Despite the fact that the two units (one manufactured under the label of King Stove & Range and the other under Sears & Roebuck) were no longer made, there were still parts available for the units.
Cannon removed the burners from both heaters and gave them a thorough cleaning. Both were clogged with debris and dirt. That seemed to do the trick as the burners put out ample flames after the cleaning and reinstallation.
Cannon and Mauri noted the lack of smoke detectors in the home, which triggered an immediate call to the DFD. Mauri arranged for a DFD official to call at the Cruz’ home and arrange a time to deliver free smoke detectors. Before leaving, Cannon advised the Cruz’ to move a wooden end table that was dangerously close to the heater, citing advice from the DFD.
While the crew went on its third and final stop, it was time for Pruitt and I to return to the “home base” at Kahn Mechanical, grab a complementary lunch, and head out to our respective chores.
I had witnessed but two of over 200 calls made that day. I could have taken the easy route and written the story from afar or visited a pre-arranged “media house” where the local television and radio stations were camped out to do a story. But I chose to take a route arranged by Jose Gonzalez, who felt that the people I’d meet would have the greatest impact on me.
He was right. But it wasn’t just the grateful homeowners, it was the spirit of the team I was with that exemplified all of the work that Dallas and Fort Worth service technicians and their owners completed on this very important day.
Ann Kahn summed up the eventful day, “Isn’t it wonderful to see all of our people working together to help so many who are in need.”
Yes Ann, heartwarming is the word that comes to mind.
This report provides information for contractors living in the South/Southwest region of the United States. This includes Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. If you have information from this region, please contact John R. Hall at 248-244-6417; 248-362-0317 (fax); or firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail).
Sidebar: Good Deeds Lead to a Foundation“Heat the Town,” “Beat the Heat,” and the North Texas ACCA Chapter’s work with Habitat for Humanity have evolved into the formation of the Community Services Foundation, a 501(C) corporation.
Through the foundation, many non-hvacr-related businesses in the Dallas area have donated money and items to be auctioned off at a Valentine Dance/Silent Auction fundraiser.
“We put the event on for the first time last year in a matter of six weeks — and raised $9,000,” said Ann Kahn. “Our goal for the second year [next February’s event] is $25,000.
“With the Foundation’s fundraising efforts, we will be able to provide more and more services as time goes on.”