WYCKOFF, N.J. — Should an air conditioning service technician in northern New Jersey get combat pay? Should the tech, upon entering a building, immediately look for the quickest exit?

This is a weather-related story. It is also the story of the quirkiness of human behavior.

The East Coast has been sweltering in 90°F-plus temperatures, and qualified technicians are as valuable as gold. Understandably anxious customers often become stressed about getting prompt service performed on their cooling systems.

But what happened on Friday, July 16, gives new meaning to stress management.

Boiled over

A Sears service technician was fixing the central air conditioning unit of 78-year-old Anthony Matonti.

The tech diagnosed the problem, and confirmed that the unit needed a new motor for the air-handling unit. He started for his truck to get a replacement motor, which had been ordered a week earlier.

For some reason, this action enraged the customer, who allegedly threatened to shoot the technician. Matonti then locked the technician in the attic, where he was held briefly, then managed to escape.

“The door had one of those spring-loaded hinges, which was pretty hard to release,” said the technician, quoted in The Record, a local newspaper.

That wasn’t the end of it. Once the technician escaped, Matonti tried to grab his tool belt, but the technician managed to evade him and leave the house.

The tech then called the police, who arrested Matonti and charged him with assault, making terrorist threats, and unlawful restraint. He was released on a $2,500 bond. He refused to return repeated calls.

The technician was a bit shaken up, said police Captain Benjamin C. Fox, adding that Matonti did not have a gun.

A Sears service manager declined to identify the technician. “It is upsetting, though,” said district manager Stan White. “I’ve been with the company for 30 years, and I’ve never heard of anything like this happening.”

Why did Matonti go postal? Police are puzzled.

“Actually, it wasn’t that hot this morning,” said Fox.