A Day in the Life of a Building Engineer

The alarm clock starts chirping at 4:30 in the morning. On a holiday. You’re on your way to the kitchen to grab your first cup of coffee.

Off to work you go, no traffic to deal with because of the early hour. In the door you walk to work, punch the clock, grab another cup of coffee, and begin your usual two hour inspection of the critical equipment that keeps a large facility running. This is your day, for you are a building engineer; the face that stays behind the scenes.

I worked as a building engineer at one of the largest facilities in a bustling ski town in the mountain west. It was always a learning experience, for no two situations were ever similar and oftentimes the problem needed to be remedied immediately. Something as simple as a loose wire that had to be traced could shut down the cooling of an entire 280,000 sq ft building for days. Or a boiler system that has to be manually operated and monitored around the clock because the computerized management system failed. This exact situation once kept me on site for thirty-four hours straight. The job can be a lot of things, but it seldom gets boring!

One of the unique aspects of the job is that it almost always requires you to be finding a workable solution to a new issue. Problem solving skills are constantly put to the test. Why is the water pressure low in one spot in the complex and not another when there is no logical reason why? How do I override an automated system that is now obsolete and no one in the state knows how to work on it? The list of oddball problems we encountered just got longer and longer as time went on.

My constant companion for this entire four years was my Leatherman. It often took the place of a heavy tool bag that was always annoying to carry along throughout days where we typically averaged eight to ten miles of walking while on shift. It got used for anything and everything. From crimping electrical connections on a new motor install, to adjusting current transformers with the micro screwdriver, it always was the first choice. I ended up using it so often that my boss started making fun of me.

The ribbing continued until the day that a skier broke a fire sprinkler head and started flooding the building. When I arrived on scene the boss and another engineer were already there but were unable to break a anti-tamper seal and shut off the water flow. Only after I handed them the Leatherman were they able to remove it and shut the valve. Funny thing, not only did the teasing stop, but the entire department was gifted Leatherman tools for the following Christmas and required to carry them on shift.

These days, when I get up at 4:30, I’m not going to work on pump motors or electrical panels anymore, but there is always a Leatherman close at hand for whatever life throws at me.

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