Some people might chalk it up to “being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” or “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Whatever the reason, Alan Mercurio is always happy to share the story with others.

Mercurio is the creator and proprietor of a popular website,, where contractors and technicians talk about issues affecting the oil heat business. He also hosts an annual “Crazy Story Contest,” in which visitors share some of their hairiest anecdotes, usually from experiences in the field. Mercurio has a judge pick the winner, and that person gets a free copy of Mercurio’s book Carry the Torch, a work subtitled Life Experiences and Technical Data to Live By.

This year’s winner is Ira Romberger of Upper Black Eddy, PA. Romberger’s story appears below in an edited version. I didn’t want to repeat it word-for-word because of some the “descriptive verbiage” (and the fact that some people may be eating lunch while they are reading this).


“I was sent on a service call that made me question my career choice (circa 1985). I cautiously pulled up to the house on a dark and cold night. I walked to the porch and noticed the small windows to the right and left of the front door were broken. Cardboard was duct taped to seal out the cold wind.

“In spite of the cold, I could smell a wicked stench coming from the home. An old man came to the door and invited me in. I was sickened by the smell. As I walked down a narrow and dark corridor towards the basement, I noticed spots on the old wooden floor that looked like gum. It was animal feces worn into the floor.

“I looked to the left and noticed an indescribable scene. It seems the homeowner was a trash disposal company owner who felt the need to bring home the nicer garbage and store it in his living room. More pungent odors!

“I finally made it to the basement and found a large, old steel boiler that had not been touched in a very long time. It was plugged solid with soot. I hit the reset once and realized I was in for trouble. I opened the back of the burner and pulled the rack assembly out. As I pulled it back, I did not realize it was on fire. The inside of the burner housing then caught fire from the burning nozzle assembly because it was encapsulated with animal hair and oil from many years of neglect. The fire started filling the basement with sickening hair and oil smoke.

“Then the fun began.

“It started raining cockroaches! They were everywhere! They were dropping in my toolbox and in my hair and clothes. I couldn’t get the fire out because it was up inside the burner. I ran upstairs and found a woman and a child in the filthy kitchen. I told her she needed to get out of the house because of the smoke, but she

didn’t heed my warning.

“I finally got the fire out and proceeded to perform one of the worst clean outs I ever did. It was packed solid. The old man reappeared like an apparition in the dark basement. He watched me and didn’t say a thing. The woman and child came downstairs to pay me a visit. The child eventually got sick all over the basement.

“After four hours, I finally made it out! The next day at the shop, I explained what had happened to my bosses. They busted out laughing and said that they had been trying to get someone to clean that boiler for the last four years, but I was the only one stupid enough to do it.”


I don’t want to copy Mercurio’s contest. However, I happen to think that sharing crazy stories is not only fun, but also educational. Call it benefiting from another’s misfortune. If you have a story to share, please drop me a line. Whether you are an owner, tech, salesperson, designer, office staffer, etc., I am willing to bet that some of you have some very interesting HVACR stories to share. And please feel free to post your story on our HVACR Forum

Stay tuned for more craziness.

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 07/22/2002