AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. - Threats of terrorism, mold, and other indoor air quality problems, and new energy technology. These are just a few things that are having a tremendous impact on the nation, as well as the way contractors do business.

"New Opportunities for Service in a New America" was the theme for the Mechanical Service Contractors of America's (MSCA's) 18th annual educational conference. MSCA members took advantage of the opportunity to network with each other and learn about ways to improve their businesses. Contractors took part in seminars that focused on sales growth, boosting employee morale, and financial planning. Other educational sessions looked at current events and how they will change the industry and the way contractors run their companies.

Lawrence Spielvogel presented a session called “Preparing your Customers for Unexpected Events in Extraordinary Times.”

Preparing For The Unexpected

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) introduced a new guideline during the organization's 2003 winter meeting in Chicago.

"Risk Management Guidance for Health, Safety, and Environmental Security under Extraordinary Incidents" was developed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The ASHRAE Presidential Ad Hoc Committee for Building Health and Safety Under Extraordinary Incidents issued the guideline to help building owners and contractors confront issues of building security and building safety.

Lawrence Spielvogel, a consulting engineer and energy management specialist, served on the ASHRAE Ad Hoc Committee. Spielvogel presented a seminar titled "Preparing your Customers for Unexpected Events in Extraordinary Times" during the MSCA conference.

The session explored the ASHRAE guideline and provided contractors with information about securing buildings and mechanical systems. Contractors need to be aware of all the possible scenarios that can impact building safety, Spielvogel maintained. Building owners and mechanical contractors need to know whether building systems could be compromised by natural disasters, fires, or power outages, as well as acts of terrorism.

"Building systems are not 100-percent reliable," said Spielvogel.

He explained to the attendees that all mechanical systems can be compromised or can run the risk of failure. But according to Spielvogel, this is where risk management comes into play. Contractors and building owners must recognize where and when systems could run into difficulty. A plan must then be formed to deal with the possibility of system failures.

Spielvogel stated that buildings must provide an acceptable level of protection without compromising the comfort of occupants. "[ASHRAE] recommends that air filters are selected with the highest possible efficiency rating that is economically feasible," said Spielvogel.

Risk management guidelines for terrorism should not affect guidelines that ensure against more common risks, he said. For example, if an infrastructure has guidelines in place to deal with a building fire, these guidelines should not be compromised in order to put terrorism guidelines in place.

For more information on the ASHRAE guideline, visit

Karl Yannes, president and CEO of Sandler Training Institute, presented a seminar titled “Managing Your Sales Force for Growth and Profits.”

Concern Over Mold

Mold is still a hot topic of debate for many in the industry, and there are many reasons why mold concerns have yet to die down.

Patrick O'Donnell, president of Enviro Team, a firm that specializes in microbiological studies, presented a session called "Mold is Not a Dirty Word - Microbiological Management Plan for the HVAC Service Industry."

O'Donnell provided attendees with a basic understanding of what mold is and how it can affect buildings and mechanical systems. He also went into more detail on the issue, discussing why mold has become a complex topic.

O'Donnell explained that an HVAC company once consisted of keeping the climate of a building at appropriate levels. "However, the HVAC community has taken on a new responsibility - environmental health," he said.

The perception of mold has changed, which has forced HVAC service companies to change the way they deal with the problem. O'Donnell said there is no longer an acceptable level of mold in an HVAC system. If visible mold growth is found inside a ventilation system, O'Donnell said that there are guidelines that can be followed, including those issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). New York City guidelines regard checking ventilation systems as one of the most important parts of identifying a possible mold problem.

O'Donnell said there are no federal regulations that deal with mold, but there are guidelines that can help assist the mechanical contractor. He suggests contractors learn what these available guidelines recommend and work within those recommendations.

The seminar also recommended that contractors develop a microbiological management plan (MMP) so contractors have a procedure in place to identify mold and deal with it if it is found. O'Donnell said that there are resources available that can help contractors adopt a plan. Resources include ASHRAE, OSHA, and EPA.

The Next Big Thing?

As new technologies are developed and perfected, the industry evolves and adapts to accommodate these changes. Michael Lafferty believes that fuel cell technology is on its way to being perfected and is close to being used as a viable energy source.

Lafferty, an instructor at Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Mich., presented a session titled "Looking to the Future - Opportunities in Fuel Cell Technology."

Lafferty explained the basic principles of fuel cells, described how they work, and detailed how the technology is progressing. Lafferty explained that once they are perfected, fuel cells would provide a cleaner, more efficient way to produce energy. This means less dependency on foreign oil, less strain on power grids, and an improvement in air quality.

According to Lafferty, fuel cell technology is at an important stage. It is recognized as an up-and-coming alternative on the horizon. But there are issues that have yet to be perfected. First, the technology is still too expensive.

"It is not a realistic commercial endeavor," said Lafferty.

The cost of a fuel cell system, along with the energy costs associated with running the system, are so high that such systems are not feasible at this point, especially as a permanent energy source. Lafferty said that at this stage fuel cell technology is best used as a backup energy source.

Another challenge is the production and delivery of hydrogen. Lafferty said that at the present, there are few methods of delivering the needed hydrogen for the cells, and the available methods are expensive and difficult.

Despite these obstacles, Lafferty is optimistic. In fact, he encouraged attendees to do more research on the technology. He said that as fuel cell technology matures, contractors will need to learn about the installation and service of such systems. The future of fuel cells will also provide another opportunity for contractors to sell and install more energy-efficient systems for their customers.

Bob Malia, chairman of the MSCA board of managers, presents York International’s Fred Ziffer with the D.S. O’Brien Award of Excellence as the award’s namesake, D.S. “Spence” O’Brien looks on.

Sidebar: A Look To The Future

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. - Members of the Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA) took time during the group's recent educational conference to learn about the future of the organization, honor those who have served the industry, and get a good dose of motivation from two special speakers.

This year's MSCA educational conference was held in Amelia Island, Fla., Oct. 19-22. The keynote speaker for the conference was Capt. Scott O'Grady, an Air Force fighter pilot who was shot down over Bosnia while trying to enforce the NATO no-fly zone. O'Grady shared his story of survival and gave attendees a lesson in how they can survive and thrive in their professional and personal lives.

Football legend Rocky Bleier was also on hand to speak to MSCA members. Bleier served in Vietnam, where he was seriously wounded. Many said that Bleier's football career was over, but he came back to play running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers in a career that included four Super Bowls.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier recounts his struggle to recover from wounds sustained in Vietnam so that he could play professional football.
To further motivate contractors, MSCA introduced its latest endeavor. The MSCA STAR Qualified Contractor program will begin recognizing contractors in early 2004. The program, according to MSCA, expects contractors to meet stringent requirements. These requirements include that contractors strive for a UA STAR certified workforce and provide continuing education to employees. MSCA plans to market the STAR program to consumers looking for qualified contractors.

MSCA members were also recognized during the conference. MSCA chairman Robert Malia welcomed Frank Norton of Commonwealth Air in Boston as the new chairman of the MSCA board of managers.

Russ Borst of Hurst Industries, Belmont, Mich., and Joe Urban from Thermalair Inc., Anaheim, Calif., were both introduced as new members of the MSCA Educational Committee.

MSCA presented its D.S. O'Brien Award of Excellence to Fred Ziffer of York International.

- James J. Siegel

Publication date: 12/22/2003