As Heat Wave Hits U.S., Air Conditioning Units Struggle To Keep People Cool | KALW

As Heat Wave Hits U.S., Air Conditioning Units Struggle To Keep People Cool

Jul 21, 2019
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

If you're in the central and eastern parts of the country, you know you're dealing with heat - highs in the 90s and even the hundreds. And in many areas, especially cities, the temperature isn't dropping that much at night, so air conditioning units are working overtime, and they're breaking. NPR's Mayowa Aina took a ride with some HVAC technicians in northern Virginia this weekend who are helping people keep their cool.

MAYOWA AINA, BYLINE: Tabitha Simonson's air conditioning has been on the fritz, and Saturday morning, she just couldn't take it anymore.

TABITHA SIMONSON: I'm so happy you're here.

RUSTY JENSEN: (Laughter) I'm Rusty Jensen.

SIMONSON: Hi, Rusty, nice to meet you.

AINA: And that's where Jay Jensen comes in. Everybody calls him Rusty. He's been working as an HVAC technician for over 20 years.

SIMONSON: This morning, it just completely shut off.

JENSEN: Oh, OK.

SIMONSON: Yeah.

JENSEN: Well, let's take a look and see what we can find.

AINA: Rusty mainly teaches and trains new HVAC technicians at Northern Virginia Community College. But when school's out, he heads back into the field, both to keep his skills sharp and to help meet the demand for techs in the region. This is his third appointment of the day, and it's not even noon yet. He says every technician's work schedule is packed. Dave Kyle is the owner of Trademasters, the company that Rusty works with. Kyle says he's been dispatching technicians day and night.

DAVE KYLE: We're taking care of churches, retirement homes...

AINA: And shopping malls, businesses and government buildings. But it's not just the demand. High temperatures also pose a serious health concern for technicians. Rusty says, he suffered a heatstroke about seven years ago. He was working on a roof where the temperature had reached 130 degrees.

JENSEN: I remember getting a cold chill. I turn around, started walking towards the ladder to get down off the roof. And then next thing I know, I was sitting in the office with ice packs all around me, sucking on an ice pop, and the ambulance was on the way (laughter).

AINA: But he says being an HVAC technician is worth it.

JENSEN: Yeah. I'll keep working every summer till I'm old and gray I'm already heading there, but (laughter) yeah, I enjoy it too much.

AINA: And he says customers like Tabitha Simonson are usually pretty grateful.

SIMONSON: That's such a relief. If he couldn't come out today - like, it was starting to get so hot in there. I was like, either I have to go to the pool or I have to go, like, to a family or friend's house or, you know, I don't even know. I almost started looking up hotel prices at this point.

AINA: But thanks to a quick fix from Rusty, she can stay put.

JENSEN: A little bit cooler in there.

SIMONSON: Yeah, I already feel it. Woo, thank you.

AINA: As for Rusty, he's got at least two more jobs on his list.

JENSEN: No rest for the wicked (laughter).

AINA: The heat wave is expected to break in some parts of the U.S. as early as Monday. Mayowa Aina, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.