STARKVILLE, MS — When you get down to the nitty-gritty of refrigeration and talk with the technicians and contractors who work on the equipment, you find certain common threads throughout the conversations. End users want equipment to last as long as possible. Customers want reliable, trustworthy service companies. And contractors are constantly searching for skilled technicians.

During the recent Southeast Regional Association Conference of the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) here (which drew attendees from Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama), four people involved in mechanical refrigeration talked about their jobs and shared their thoughts on the industry.

Supermarket Man

Vernon Chandler is a service technician with Miller Equipment in Knoxville, TN. Chandler has been in the business for 30 years. He started working with his grandfather when he was 14 doing residential a/c.

The company, which has been around since 1935, does $3 million a year in business, and has 18 employees and seven service trucks. It does commercial refrigeration work at supermarkets, convenience stores, and institutions. Because the company is involved with some chains, it finds its services needed in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, as well as Tennessee.

While techs are using more and more of the newer refrigerants such as R-404A, Chandler said, “We still have a lot of stores using R-12 and R-502 and will do so until the equipment fails or it just has to be replaced.” His company’s relationship with Refron’s reclamation program, along with supermarket chains maintaining ownership of CFC refrigerants, has allowed the contracting company to have adequate supplies of 12 and 502, he said.

Finding good techs is no easier in the Southeast than anywhere else. “Quality techs are scarce,” he said. “The problem is that a lot of techs don’t know how to diagnose. And then a lot of people are retiring.”

The importance of training is reflected in Chandler’s willingness to teach the technology in the adult education program of the Knox County School District. He’s had students from ages 18 to 68. He noted that the district requires at least 15 students per session for the hvacr classes and it has been at that level or better for some 30 years. He said students come fresh from high school, from other trades, or from within the industry seeking refresher courses.

Chandler himself keeps up to speed by availing himself of training courses including those of his home Great Smoky Mountain Chapter of RSES. He also is an officer in the RSES Volunteer State Association.

Institution Man

James Flach heads maintenance operations at Masters Health Care in Cooksville, TN. He and one other maintenance person have responsibilities that include four-ton packaged terminal air conditioners on the roof, close to 100 through-the-wall units, ice machines, walk-ins, plus a couple of 1 million-Btu boilers.

He’s been in hvacr for 15 years after spending a number of years as a union electrician.

He contends the “biggest part of hvacr is electrical” and more training is needed in that area.

He works with R-12, -502, -22, -134a, and -410A. Despite being part of an organization that owns 300 health care facilities nationwide, Flach is able to order what equipment is needed for his facility — budget willing.

Like Chandler, Flach is active in the Volunteer State Association of RSES; he was recently re-elected association president and named its Member of the Year.

Pizza Man

Gary Archer is a service technician with Air Control Technology of Kingsport, TN. The company does a lot of work on restaurant equipment including coolers, freezers, and pizza ovens.

The company’s five employees travel a 70-mile radius and do service work at a number of restaurants of a major pizza chain. The company was formed five years ago at a time when the owner was recovering refrigerant from reprocessed mobile homes.

The variety of equipment has found Archer working with such refrigerants as 404A, 409A, and 134a, although R-12 and R-22 remain predominant, he said. “We are still able to get them, although 12 is expensive, like $900 for 30 lb.”

His suggestion for technicians: “Get all the training you can get, anything you can get, wherever it is, whether you think it pertains or not.” He added, “RSES is one of the best places — as well as wholesalers’ in-store seminars.”

Lumber Man

Just when you think you can define the job of an hvacr tech, along comes Larry Lynn of Lynn’s Electric Service, Columbia, TN. While the company does some ice machine and refrigeration service work, about 80% of business is in dehumidification for ‘green’ lumberyards.

The process involves putting lumber into kilns and pulling the moisture out, so the end product can be shipped out to become everything from church benches to pencils.

He’s been doing the job for 20 years. “It’s a niche type of thing,” he said.

His close to two dozen customers cover a 150-mile radius including Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.

For Lynn, good technicians need extensive knowledge in refrigeration and electricity. “You have good refrigeration technicians who don’t understand electricity, and visa versa. That’s where the problem comes in.”

Lynn has served in various chairs at the local, state, and regional level of RSES. Currently, he is Region 7 Director, covering much of the Southeast United States. In that position, he is one of 17 regional directors involved in guiding a technician trade association that emphasizes education.

The commitment is partly out of concern for the recurring technician shortage story. “There is a tech shortage like you wouldn’t believe. You can find a person who wants the job, but sometimes they don’t want the give the time they need to learn.”

Publication date: 08/20/2001