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NEWS | Aug. 20, 2013

Beat the heat: HVAC team keeps Langley dorms cool

By Staff Sgt. Ashley Hawkins 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Two staff sergeants have contributed to the completion of approximately 620 jobs this summer alone, with an estimated completion of 300 more in the next month, all in an effort to help their fellow wingmen.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgts. Andrew LaBrake and Jack Olney, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron heating, ventilation and air conditioning craftsmen, work tirelessly to maintain the dormitory HVAC systems at Langley Air Force Base, Va., making sure the residents stay cool during the sweltering summer months using the Rover system, introduced eight months ago as a direct digital control to repair the units.

With the newly installed system, the HVAC team is ready for any power outage or electrical issue that may arise. Repair times are quicker, which means turn-arounds are much shorter.

"Basically, we can plug [the Rover] into [the fan coil system] and reprogram as we see fit," said LaBrake. "Before we had that, over time, we'd have maintenance alarms, loss of man hours and sometimes loss of equipment. Now with Rover, I grab the computer [and] plug it in. I'm always a couple key clicks away from fixing it."

As a result of ongoing incidents such as power outages and system reprogramming, their daily routines consist of repairing fan coil units, which are used to maintain the temperature points set by the thermostat, and maintaining the 19 new chilled-water systems, or chillers, installed to produce cold water that is circulated throughout the facilities instead of chemicals.
Before the Rover system was introduced as a quicker, more cost-efficient means for maintenance issues, repairing things such as a fan coil unit would take hours, even days, to complete.

The "dorm crew" is only one team of six HVAC crews who take in thousands of calls each summer.

"Every dorm call is an urgent call, which means we only have five days [to complete them]," said LaBrake. "With roughly 1,100 residents, we'll usually walk in to 10 or 12 new jobs, daily."

Due to the constant amount of short-notice work orders in consequence of frequent summer storms, LaBrake and Olney have had to put in several long days to accomplish the mission.

"At least once a week we'll have something commercial to work on that'll definitely eat into our day," said LaBrake. "Sometimes it's simple, and other times we would have to re-run lines; lately it's been a lot of electrical work."

Though the work may seem overwhelming, what keeps them motivated is the importance of the job and the satisfaction of getting it done.

"I love working with my hands; it's something different every day," said Olney. "Even though they're the same units, there are always new issues with them, and Rover makes repairs easier."

LaBrake shared those sentiments of passion for his job.

"This is where people live," said LaBrake. "So, if it's getting towards the end of the day, and you know it's going to be 102 degrees out, we'll try to finish up everything we can."

Before Rover, depending on the building and the repair issue, some jobs would not be completed on time because of the significant amount of work put into maintaining them manually, said LeBrake. He said being able make timely repairs gives him great passion for his job.

According to LaBrake, the newer dorms' complicated architecture would cause a significant amount of tear-downs and technical reprogramming. The resident would have to wait days, sometimes weeks, for their unit to be repaired.  

This summer shows significant changes in repair times compared to last year, due to the Rover system, Olney said. The HVAC team is able to complete more repairs throughout the day, which means fewer maintenance calls are elevated through the dorm residents' chain of command. For LaBrake, the only gratification he needs is knowing he contributed to making the Airmen's lives easier.

"The only thing a resident knows is [that] it's hot," said LaBrake. "We worked a couple extra hours because [we know] that, and 1,100 people [were] cool again. They might not have seen us; most of them don't even know we're here, but I helped 1,100 people. It feels great."

To LaBrake and Olney, it's not just a job - it's a way to help their fellow Airmen living in the dormitories.