Working in temperatures that regularly exceed 140 degrees, local air conditioning repair technicians face extreme working conditions as the summer heat settles in.
"In Statesboro, you generally have to go into the attic to do air conditioning repair and installation work," said James Oliver, son of Jimmy Oliver, co-founder of Hagan and Oliver Sheet Metal Company in Statesboro. "In the summertime, it can be as hot as 160 degrees in an attic. My father has been doing this type of work for over 40 years. He can stay in an attic all day, and it won't bother him. It isn't uncommon for one of our younger guys to get sick."
As temperatures rise, the demand for air conditioning repair escalates, and in some cases, tempers flare.
"As soon as we had the first hot spell, which this year came in June, the calls started flooding in," said Frankie Kennedy, owner of Kennedy Heating and Air. "We try to move elderly folks up to the front of the line each day and service them first, but everybody wants to be first when their air conditioning quits working, and they will let you know that."
Kennedy said that he and his crew have been working seven days a week since the end of May to meet the service demand.
"The only day that we have had off since the seventeenth of May was Father's Day," Kennedy said. "We are working from seven in the morning until at least ten at night. Some nights we don't get home until after midnight."
Kennedy said the real demand doesn't normally hit until July, but this year has been different.
"Usually it's mid July before we start working these types of hours," he said. "But the heat came early, and the heat is what dictates our schedule."
Marvin Deal, Jr., owner of Eagle Heating and Air, said it takes a unique and dedicated individual to work the type of hours required under very tough conditions.
"The extreme heat slows our technicians down," Deal said. "You just can't work as fast, and you have to be in good shape. Our guys are averaging between 80 and 100 hours a week in this environment. This year we bought 'cool packs' to put on them. It helps some."
As one might imagine, the demand for experienced air conditioning technicians remains strong. Ogeechee Technical College has three different certification programs in the area of air conditioning repair and installation.
"There is a tremendous demand for people trained in this area, and our graduates have no problems finding a job locally," said Michael Burrell, dean of business and technology at Ogeechee Tech. "These programs are consistently well attended. It is very hard work, but one can make a very good living doing it. Eventually, many own their own company."
Burrell said that air conditioning systems are becoming more and more complex requiring a more knowledgeable workforce to repair them.
"These units are driven now by computer technology, and technicians have to understand these components," he said. "We have 20 different types and styles of air conditioning units that our students work on during their training. Everything now, including installation and duct work, is much more detailed than it used to be."
Chris Oglesby, owner of Ogeechee Heating and Air in Claxton, said he has been busy since the day he opened his business just a few years ago.
"We have always been busy," Oglesby said. "In south Georgia, people want their air conditioners to work. It's that simple. You don't go home at five o'clock in the summertime. When the humidity is up, we are working. August is usually our hottest and busiest month."
Oliver said the business has changed over the years, becoming less customer oriented and more job oriented.
"People want to know how quick you can get to their home," he said. "They are a little less understanding, because in my opinion, air conditioning has become a necessity and not a luxury. Just drive around and look at all of the houses that are being built. None of them have screens on the windows. People don't want to open their windows anymore. They want air conditioning, and they want it now."