Robert Lombardo, 61, is a senior service technician at Trane in New York City.
You work on large commercial and industrial air-conditioning systems. Where are they?
In colleges, health care facilities, commercial office buildings, research labs and the like.
These aren’t like air-conditioning units you might see outside houses, for example. They’re huge.
My territory is Westchester, the Bronx and northern Manhattan. I get the best of both worlds — trees in Westchester and the vibrancy that is New York City.
How’s your summer going?
The heat’s been one for the ages — a really busy cooling season. I carry a lot of bottled water in my truck and use every resource possible to refresh myself. Even if a system is down, there’s some area you can go to for a few minutes to cool yourself. You have to pace yourself and do the best you can.
What do you do in the winter?
A lot of larger air-conditioners run year-round — for example, older data centers can generate a tremendous amount of heat — so we need to maintain them during the winter.
Businesses have different buying cycles, so we do post-installation work in winter, and we also do preventive maintenance for customers during those months.
How did you get started?
In high school I worked in my family’s major appliance sales and service business during the summer, which exposed me to carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. I decided to study electrical construction and maintenance at what is now SUNY Delhi and thought I’d be an electrician.
Instead I’ve worked at several air-conditioning companies over the years and have been with Trane since 2002.
Many problems with air-conditioners are electrical, so my electrical knowledge has really helped in this job.
What skills do you need, aside from expertise in electrical work?
Good communication. Once when we were doing some post-installation work on a system, their building engineer and some other experts had some concerns about performance data. We had several meetings, and things got a little heated. I was in a talent development program at work at the time with three smart female mentors who gave me insight into problem-solving in our business. I kept their examples in mind and stayed calm.
Have you had other mentors?
Yes, a former boss. One of his pet sayings was “Pray for problems.” He’d follow that with “Show customers you’re committed to fixing them.”
We’ll even bring in a chiller, a rental unit, while we’re working, to keep the building cool. It’s a good feeling when you restore a system.
Do you often work in remote areas of buildings?
It’s true, air-conditioning equipment can be in areas that are out of sight, out of mind.
In a previous job, I was working on a roof in the Bronx when I got locked out. Someone must’ve locked the door from the inside.
I banged on it, but I think the whole building was empty by that time. I called 911, and the Fire Department came and rescued me with a ladder.
I can laugh now, but it wasn’t funny at the time.
You’ve given back to the industry. How?
I served as shop steward for our union, Steamfitters Local 638, for almost 10 years, advocating for members. I negotiated contracts, for example. In 2016, I resigned to pass the torch to the next generation.
I’m still active in the union, and I continue to mentor new employees. Trane and our local union partner with a few technical trade schools, and we’ve helped produce some promising tradespeople for the future. New hires may do things a little differently, but we’ve learned from each other.
Vocations asks people about their jobs.
Interview conducted and condensed by
Patricia R. Olsen.