Steamfitters know the glory of working in tight spaces in musty basements, and Saturday they did it for free.
The Omaha area's union steamfitters carried on their 25-year-old fall tradition of donating a Saturday morning to inspect the furnaces of elderly and low-income residents.
About 100 apprentices, journeymen and contractors participated in the Steamfitters and Plumbers Local 464's “Heat's On” event. Retirees and other volunteers participated as well, mainly as cooks of the pancake-and-sausage breakfast that preceded the work.
“Twenty-five years — this is awesome,” said Marsha Babcock, executive vice president of the Mechanical Contractors Association, the steamfitters' partner in the activity.
The apprentices and journeymen, who are experienced workers, visited about 120 houses in the area.
Tim Stangl's assignments took him to two homes in South Omaha, the area where his mother grew up and where Stangl tromped around as a boy while visiting his grandmother.
First stop was Mary Ann Gaddie's home on South 36th Street.
“Basement's down this way,” said Gaddie, whose husband died last year.
Stangl got on his knees, put his little flashlight between his teeth and took the plastic door off the furnace. He's had a flashlight between his teeth to light basements so much in his career that a dental hygienist told him he had worn tiny curves into his front teeth.
The steamfitters make sure the units are working safely and well. They inspect the furnaces' heat exchangers, safety valves, filters and other parts. They shoot the breeze a bit with their customers. They look at their smoke alarms.
“I've only set that off with my popcorn popper twice,” Gaddie, 71, said.
“Everything looks real good, ma'am,” Stangl said.
Stangl grew up in Papillion, raised his own family in Elkhorn and he and his wife built a home in Bennington after their two sons completed high school.
These days he is a foreman-journeyman on commercial and industrial jobs, installing and repairing large heating and cooling systems. He has volunteered for “Heat's On” about 20 times.
Next stop was Ed Prucha's place on South 41st Avenue. “You have a beautiful yard here, Ed,” Stangl said as he entered the house.
Prucha, 87, kept an eye on Stangl's work and listened intently to the steamfitter. Stangl looked inside the furnace. “There's a little rust down in here,” Stangl said.
“Oh?” Prucha said with surprise and concern. He wore suspenders on his jeans. His hair was white. His legs gave him trouble, and he hobbled a bit.
Stangl looked over the furnace and the combined smoke-carbon monoxide detector, of which Stangl approved.
“Smart man,” he said of the carbon monoxide device.
Prucha, whose wife, Jean, remained upstairs and unseen, inquired about that rusty spot inside the furnace.
“It should be fine,” Stangl said, and later kicked himself for even bringing it up. He could tell how meticulous Prucha was.
“You have any more questions for us, Ed?” Stangl asked.
“That should take care of it. What was your name again?”
“Tim. Tim Stangl.”
Prucha and Stangl shook hands and the old man held on for a bit. “Thank you,” he said.
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