Peter McCarthy Electric Co., Inc. - Specializing in Older Buildings in Chicago
Adventures in Old House Wiring....

Never on a Sunday.....

Yesterday was Sunday. All set to go to work out, go to church, and then return at 2 PM for my daughter Sarah's first communion prep class. But the phone rang early. It was a Hyde Parker who runs his business out of his home, and he had a potentially very harsh situation on his hands.

His elaborate home office computer set up was being protected (backed up) by a UPS system (Uninterrupted Power System)  These are common in commercial applications, where the power absolutely, positively CAN'T go down. These systems monitor the power going to the computer equipment, and stand at the ready to switch in a nano-second (well, maybe not that fast, but certainly faster than the blink of an eye) from the premises wiring (from the circuit breaker) to a bank of back up batteries if the power goes down or wavers. The UPS system also has an internal continuous re-charging system for those batteries, to insure that they are not dead when the moment of truth arrives. And they have an alarm that beeps to tell you if there is a failure, if the batteries are not taking a charge as they should.

Needless to say, they had chosen Sunday morn to beep.  He found me on yelp and quickly called for service. When I called him back he said only later did he see the notation "Sunday is family day"  on my website, and he said he did not mean to interrupt me. I told him I do try to honor that time set aside for my family, but in this case it the circumstances were extraordinary, since his entire operation was potentially at risk. I hoped in the car. When I arrived, we went through the power feed from the breaker upward, checking everything we possibly could. WE opened the panel to verify that the breaker we thought was controlling the system was in fact doing so. We traced the conduits to be sure it went where he thought it went. We tested voltages, looked at the grounding, double-checked the nameplate information on the UPS system. In short we checked, double-checked, and verified the presence of voltage and the ampacity requirements of the system. Not being a computer or electronics wizard, I was very straight forward with him about what I could do at that time. I think he appreciated my candor.  Together we came to the best conclusion we could, which was that either the battery itself or the battery-charging portion of the UPS equipment was faulty, but the actual 120V building wiring was delivering what it was supposed to. He said he would be having the electronics technician who normally handles the equipment out ASAP, but he was also concerned about verifying the power from the panel. We were able to do that.

I like to think I have learned a few things over the years. This is not an electrical business. This is a customer service business by way of electricity. When I took the call and said I would come over, I had a pretty good idea i would not be uncovering anything earth-shattering as far as the power to the units. Years ago, I would have thought that there would not be much to show for this visit, there would be no "product," per se.  I have come to understand that the "product" was 20% my technical knowledge and 80% my concern and empathy and understanding that on a Sunday morning, when the power back-up for your entire operation, and by extension your entire livelihood is in doubt, you need somebody who you can count on to be there when you need him. That is the kind of contractor, Hyde Park businessman, and neighbor I want to be.

I imagine I could have charged him a pretty penny for this emergency service call. Fact is, it was free. (Can't make a habit of that if Sarah's gonna go to college..LOL...but this one was on the house.)

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