Sam McGowan, maintenance tech at Volunteers of America in St. Louis, has been with the company for over 15 years. He began as a janitor, applied his plumbing and electrical skills to save the organization time and money, and was moved into a management position.
We are in the middle of flooding season. Have you ever had to deal with flooding in one of your buildings? We had a problem with a building where water was backing up in all the toilets and the sinks, and the facility was flooded. Here are the steps we took:
1. Stop all of the running water.
2. Investigate the problem’s source (I discovered cooking grease was clogging the pipe).
3. Eliminate the problem (I took a hot-water pipe and ran it through the main water break and broke through all the cooking grease).
4. Communicate measures residents can take to prevent this from happening (for example, don’t dump grease down the drain).
5. Follow up on a consistent schedule. I look at all of my drains every three months to make sure there aren’t any issues.
Have you had any other flooding issues?
There was another time I had two units, and the hallway flooded. I called Claria Clean and they came immediately. They brought wet vacs to suck up the water and dehumidifiers to keep moisture out, so there wouldn’t be any mold. When they come to do a job, they really get it done.
What are some challenging projects you’ve had to tackle in your work, and how have you handled them?
I remember I had to clean a unit where the resident had been a chain smoker. It took me two weeks to restore it. I had to prime the walls and paint them twice, clean the windows and tear out the carpets to get rid of the smell. It was a lot of work, but we got it done. Some days are rough, and some days run smooth.
What is it like to maintain a facility like Volunteers of America?
At Volunteers of America, that mission is reflected on an everyday basis. You really get to know the people and the residents; they respect you, you respect them. Everything reflects back on the work you do. If the building looks good, and if the people are happy, you’re doing it right. It’s an amazing nonprofit, and they have buildings all over the country: Virginia, Chicago, Kansas, New Orleans.
I love my job, and I try to do it the best I can. I love working with my hands, collaborating with a team and meeting the seniors; I’ll talk to them while I’m fixing whatever’s broken, and we get to know each other.
What does your role entail on a day-to-day basis?
I take care of anything that breaks down at the building I’m in, or if there’s an emergency at another site, I’ll take care of it. That commonly includes fixing air conditioning and heating units.
I’m also on call 24 hours a day. For the tech working on site, I prefer they call me if they have a question and let me talk them through it, instead of trying to fix it on their own. Things can get worse if you do that.
Take me through your background. Where else have you worked?
I went to school to learn how to build a house from the ground up, and I have four certificates in bricklaying, carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. Now I’m working on my HVAC certificate.
I worked at the St. Louis Housing Authority for 15 years in maintenance. I actually started there as a janitor, too, and I was working on a 13-story high rise where a water pipe had burst. They couldn’t cut the water off, because no one knew where the water main was. I ran to the roof, found it and turned it off. After that, they had me working in maintenance.