My job is not a clean one. Most days, I scrub my hands as hard as I can but the dirt stains my fingerprints. My work is mainly geared towards the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning in a commercial office building. There is also pluming work for the bathrooms and tenant spaces, and then on occasion, I work with electricity.
According to local fire laws, buildings of certain height and occupancy must be fitted with sprinkler systems. These laws continue to evolve, which means that along with the other responsibilities, I am also a fire safety director, and so my responsibilities carry over to the sprinkler and standpipe system.
I was at the end of a long, double shift. The bottom of my back hurt and the pain in my knees branched down to my ankles. After going off the clock at 2:00am, I found a spot on the couch in the locker room. I placed earplugs in my ears to drown the loud noise of steam clanging through the pipes, as well as the snoring, which came from a co-worker that joined me on the late shift.
My body never adjusts well; it’s hard for me to sleep in strange places, let alone a couch in the engineer’s locker room on Lexington Avenue.
But tired and broken down, I was able to close my eyes and sleep for two hours.
Back on the clock by 6:00am, I was moving 8’ ladders, opening ceiling tiles and climbing into a hung ceiling to work on the steam lines. This was done to clear the way for the building’s plumber, a father and son team, so they could remove the bonnets of two 3in. steam valves.
Next, my boss sent me to open doors for the construction end of the building. Then I set up the steamfitters, and the electricians. By this time, it was closer to 10:00 and one of the contractors offered to buy the engineering crew breakfast.
I was tired. My shirt was patched with black spots of filth and grease. My hair, which has not been cut in months, flew around and looked wild and messy. With one last chore before sitting to breakfast, I began to test one of the valves in the building’s mezzanine level.
This is our floor. This is where the engineering, maintenance, and porter crews have their locker rooms. This was also at the bottom of the steam line I worked on earlier. And so, I picked up the rubble and debris from the broken wall, which we needed to break to locate the return valve at the bottom of the steam run. I shoveled the brick into a garbage pail, stood up straight to crack my back, and then I heard the familiar sound of tones ringing through the building.
“I guess there’s be no breakfast for us,” I said.
The fire command system is broken into different parts which relay different alarms. Of course, the obvious are the smoke detectors. There are also pull stations located on each floor near the staircases, and then there is something called a water-flow.
When a sprinkler head fuses, or releases, water floods the area and triggers an alarm.
One of the lobby tenants is a gym. They have their own fire protection, but being a tenant, their alarm system is tied into ours.
(And now for the point)
While running an event for The St. Jude Organization, the gym played loud music and hundreds of people worked out with all their might and all their sweat in an effort to defeat cancer.
People took turns on stationary bikes and treadmills. There were families in attendance; there were little children as beautiful as I have ever seen. They were doing jumping jacks and running in place. There was food and water. There was flashy lighting, as if it were spun around in a New York City nightclub….and then there was the fire alarm.
In the upper level of the gym, located in the back of the physical therapy office, one of the sprinkler heads gave way and water began to pour down. This was not due to fire; this was because the ceiling above the sheetrock was leaky with drafts from the outside air and the pipe froze.
Needless to say….we got wet. We got dirty.
We got in there and fixed the sprinkler and the hundreds of people running, pounding, and working together never knew anything about it. We prevented most of the water damage and the event never stopped.
While I was working, one of the coordinators explained that St. Jude raised over 20 million dollars this year.
I felt proud
I felt proud that I was able to help, even in the smallest way. The event was never interrupted. The guests never knew what the alarms were for.
Maybe they thought the alarm was the building’s way of screaming along.
There are days when I feel as if the dirt on my hands is pointless. There are times I wonder if the pain in my back of knees is really necessary.
But not yesterday…
Yesterday, we were able to fix something which allowed hundreds of people to dance, jump, and shout out against cancer.
Today I shave my head for the children of the St Baldrick’s Foundation. I have raised money to fund cancer research.
I believe in what I am doing.
I believe in energy and that the word negative is only positive in a doctor’s office.
If only hearts could cure, even in times as cold as ours, I know there is enough warmth in this world to drown any sickness.
This picture was taken last year. That little girl was eight at the time. Her hair just grew after beating Leukemia.
She doesn’t know what doctor bills are. All she knew is she was sick and she lost her hair to chemotherapy.
That’s why I let her shave my head.