Steve Healey, shop supervisor for Springville Central Shop in Utah, has been a mechanic for over 30 years and oversees about 250 assets in his small city. He’s seen and learned a lot during his time in the industry, particularly the technological changes that have occurred over the years.
Adapting from Old to New
When he first started his fleet career, he dealt with parts like points and condensers, carbureted engines. old-style engine controls. Over time, he’s kept up with technology all the way up to newer computer controls.
“Back in the 60’s, we had zero emission controls. As they were introduced, reducing emissions and increasing fuel milage became the main driver of vehicle technologies. With the tightening of fuel controls came new sensors and other electronic devices. The same thing happened with diesel. The old-fashioned diesels were totally mechanical, and they've introduced electronics over the years to get to the point where we're at now,” he explains.
At his shop, he and his crew work on everything, small engines all the way up to large diesel trucks. He feels this provides him with a good variety that keeps the days interesting.
Understanding the Difficulties of Being a Mechanic
He believes one of the challenges new people coming into the industry are going to be faced with is the changing equipment landscape, as technology is only going to continue to progress from where it’s at now.
“Being a mechanic, you need a lot of knowledge in physics and the theory behind electronics, hydraulics, compression and gear ratios…the list goes on. I don't think people outside the industry really realize the technical ability it takes to be a good mechanic,” he says.
He says those who succeed are those “born with grease on their hands.”
It's a challenging career path to pursue, and becomes even more so the further up the career ladder you climb. On top of managing shops and fleets, aspects like following EPA regulations with proper disposal of waste products is yet another factor to keep track of. Not to mention becoming extremely price conscious when it comes to purchasing needed equipment.
“It gets to be pretty dynamic, trying to be a fleet manager.”
Evolving with Equipment
With an aging workforce and an increasing difficulty in finding and keeping new, skilled talent, it has been a challenge creating a team that is able to keep up with the ever-evolving nature of technology.
“I've worked with a lot of mechanics over the years, and as they get closer to retirement they start thinking, ‘well, I don't have that much longer. I don't want to deal with this.’ But you have to keep up. The one thing I've said is, I'm never going to stop learning; I'm going to always take every challenge and not quit.”
He says if a mechanic develops this kind of attitude, they are pretty much done as a mechanic because things are changing so quickly.
“This need to keep up is what keeps the job from getting old and keeps a person from burning out, because you have to continually evolve as equipment evolves.”
Choosing Gas Versus Diesel
The current debate that interests him is choosing gas engines over diesel engines in lighter duty trucks. With the reliability of gas engines becoming much greater than that of newer diesels, and emission controls becoming less problematic, Healey says he’s seeing a shift back over to gas - especially in vehicles like ambulances. With gas engines, you get less downtime, more reliability, and a reduced maintenance cost.
“Ambulances have always been one of my biggest concerns. If you have a maintenance failure with somebody in the back, that could be a problem. That's always been my worst nightmare. I want to ensure none of that happens with a life hanging in balance. I wouldn't want to be responsible for somebody not making it to the hospital.”
Persevering in Tough Times
His words of wisdom to readers are do not let any challenge dissuade you. Always tackle everything head on. Maintain a positive attitude, and get the job done.
“You see a lot of people that are afraid. They get a vehicle or project that they've never done before, and they're too scared to try it. But if there’s no investment, there’s no gain. You have to get in there and not be too discouraged to try new things.”
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