Keeping Big City Spaces Cool in a Hot Summer

Robert Lombardo, 61, is a senior service technician at Trane in New York City.

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Keeping Big City Spaces Cool in a Hot Summer
Patricia R. Olsen
, New York Times
Robert Lombardo, 61, is a senior service technician at Trane in New York City.
Q: You work on large commercial and industrial air-conditioning systems. Where are they?

A: In colleges, health care facilities, commercial office buildings, research labs and the like.

These aren’t like air-conditioning units you might see outside houses, for example. They’re huge.

My territory is Westchester, the Bronx and northern Manhattan. I get the best of both worlds — trees in Westchester and the vibrancy that is New York City.

Q: How’s your summer going?

A: The heat’s been one for the ages — a really busy cooling season. I carry a lot of bottled water in my truck and use every resource possible to refresh myself. Even if a system is down, there’s some area you can go to for a few minutes to cool yourself. You have to pace yourself and do the best you can.

Q: What do you do in the winter?

A: A lot of larger air-conditioners run year-round — for example, older data centers can generate a tremendous amount of heat — so we need to maintain them during the winter.

Businesses have different buying cycles, so we do post-installation work in winter, and we also do preventive maintenance for customers during those months.

Q: How did you get started?

A: In high school I worked in my family’s major appliance sales and service business during the summer, which exposed me to carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. I decided to study electrical construction and maintenance at what is now SUNY Delhi and thought I’d be an electrician.

Instead I’ve worked at several air-conditioning companies over the years and have been with Trane since 2002.

Many problems with air-conditioners are electrical, so my electrical knowledge has helped in this job.

Q: What skills do you need, aside from expertise in electrical work?

A: Good communication. Once when we were doing some post-installation work on a system, their building engineer and some other experts had some concerns about performance data. We had several meetings, and things got a little heated. I was in a talent development program at work at the time with three smart female mentors who gave me insight into problem-solving in our business. I kept their examples in mind and stayed calm.

Q: Have you had other mentors?

A: Yes, a former boss. One of his pet sayings was “Pray for problems.” He’d follow that with “Show customers you’re committed to fixing them.”

We’ll even bring in a chiller, a rental unit, while we’re working, to keep the building cool. It’s a good feeling when you restore a system.

Q: Do you often work in remote areas of buildings?

A: It’s true, air-conditioning equipment can be in areas that are out of sight, out of mind.

In a previous job, I was working on a roof in the Bronx when I got locked out. Someone must’ve locked the door from the inside.

I banged on it, but I think the whole building was empty by that time.

I called 911, and the Fire Department came and rescued me with a ladder. I can laugh now, but it wasn’t funny at the time.

Q: You’ve given back to the industry. How?

A: I served as shop steward for our union, Steamfitters Local 638, for almost 10 years, advocating for members. I negotiated contracts, for example. In 2016, I resigned to pass the torch to the next generation.

I’m still active in the union, and I continue to mentor new employees. Trane and our local union partner with a few technical trade schools, and we’ve helped produce some promising tradespeople for the future. New hires may do things a little differently, but we’ve learned from each other.

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