- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

The heat is on Terence Jenkins. But the 38-year-old service technician for R.E. Robertson Plumbing and Heating Inc. doesn’t break a sweat. On this day, he’ll handle everything from routine servicing of home heaters to figuring out why the heat won’t kick on in some buildings.

Mr. Jenkins has a list of jobs in Anne Arundel County. While he sometimes works on commercial buildings, most of his work is residential. And he likes it that way.

“I like residential because I like dealing with the homeowner,” he says. “You can see they are pleased with the job.”

Mr. Jenkins climbs into his white company van after collecting paperwork that details the day’s customers and the work that needs to be done at each place. Photographs of his wife, Phyllis, and their 2-year-old son, Tah-Jay, are attached to the dashboard.

He immediately picks up a tattered map with curled pages and earmarked corners. He is familiar with his first scheduled destination, a house in Edgewater, but he double-checks the quickest route from the Annapolis office.

Mr. Jenkins’ first visit to the house was for a repair. The second visit — during the spring — was for maintenance. On this day, it’s time for the fall maintenance service.

“It’s basically a checkup,” he says. “We recommend a customer has their system serviced twice a year.”

Within minutes, Mr. Jenkins pulls up to the house. The homeowners aren’t there but the house is open for him to work inside.

Mr. Jenkins, with his blue uniform and orange tool kit, walks to the side of the house and maneuvers himself inside a crawl space to service the unit under the house.

He sets up a light and spends about 15 minutes checking electrical components and cleaning the wires and other parts to cut down on corrosion.

“I’m making sure everything works the way it should … so when winter does come [the homeowners] are ready,” Mr. Jenkins says. “The last thing I want to do is to have to come back to a house after just being there.”

Mr. Jenkins moves to the outside heating system on the other side of the house. He’s doing much of the same — cleaning wires, checking pressure, the motor and other electrical parts. He finds a wire that is on the verge of breaking. He replaces the tip and secures it in place.

Mr. Jenkins then removes his work boots and goes inside the house. He’s greeted by a talking bird and Christmas music. He checks the thermostat and makes sure the air coming from the downstairs vents is at the right temperature.

After about 50 minutes at this house, the work is complete. Mr. Jenkins fills out a service sheet detailing what he did and leaves it inside the home.

For Mr. Jenkins, most days begin around 8 a.m. when he gets a list of his jobs for the day. He calls the office periodically to give an update on his schedule — whether he’s on time or running late.

Mr. Jenkins will have about five or six jobs on a typical day, depending on the work. He’ll wrap up his day around 4:30 p.m.

But that’s not the case during the busiest times of the year — when the first hot or cold days occur. He sometimes doesn’t get home until 9 or 10 o’clock at night.

The unusually warm weather has made this mid-November a bit easier on Mr. Jenkins. But when the first cold spell hit earlier this month, “the calls were coming out of the woodwork,” he says.

After checking out the map for the location of his next job, Mr. Jenkins is on the road again. At this site, he has to figure out why the heat is not working at the office of a storage facility. He has never been to the building and doesn’t know what to expect.

He grabs his tool kit and is escorted into a storage room where a gas furnace sits in a closet tucked in the back of the room. He turns on the heat and it shuts off 30 seconds later. The furnace tries to kick on again but fails.

Mr. Jenkins takes one of his gadgets and screws it into the unit to check the gas pressure. Within minutes he has found the problem: There is no gas. He tells the office manager she will have to contact Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. to get it turned on.

Sometimes problems have simple solutions, Mr. Jenkins says, so he tries to go over logical steps first before delving deeper. It saves him time.

Mr. Jenkins will be celebrating his one-year anniversary at R.E. Robertson in January. But the seasoned heating and air conditioning technician started in the business in 1987 — installing units at first and moving into service 10 years later.

“I really like service because I am responsible for everything,” Mr. Jenkins said. “This is an ideal job that fits me.”

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