Field Service Technician Profile
Title: Electrical Field Service Technician
With Neundorfer Since: 1989 (45 years in air pollution controls)
Hometown: Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Residence: Mentor, Ohio
Cleveland East Side or West Side: East
Home Life: Married 39 years, two grown children (one daughter, one son) and the best granddaughter ever!
Hobbies: Grandpa, politics, woodworking and remodeling houses
Ed Zimmer, c. 1967
Ed Zimmer, 2011
It's not an exaggeration to say that Ed Zimmer is an electrical field service industry veteran. In high school, he took electronics classes at Max Hayes on the West Side of Cleveland. Then, in 1966 at age 23, after spending four years in the Air Force, he began working at HIRT Combustion Engineers in Montebello, California and continued education at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, graduating in 1976.
In 1966, Ed was HIRT's 11th employee, and he started off working in the manufacturing department. Before long, he switched to electrical field service and by 1969 had worked his way up to manager level. By then, the company had grown to about 30 people.
HIRT, based in southwestern California near Los Angeles, manufactured thermal oxidizers, which used heat generated from natural gas or oil to burn fumes from chemical processes.1
"Off-gas from chemical processes was raised up to about 1,400 degrees," Ed explains. "That destroys odor, and virtually any kind of organic pollutant. Thermal oxidizers were generally used in chemical plants, but also by car manufacturers to deal with paint fumes, and by companies like Avery Label to handle off-gas from glues."
All of this was before the days of air pollution regulations as we know them today.
"When I first started, there weren't government rules regarding air pollution," Ed recalls. "The only people who did anything were just good neighbors—mostly chemical companies like Dow Chemical."
Ed worked at HIRT until the late 1980s, when he returned to Cleveland to help care for his aging parents. Purely by chance, he began working for Neundorfer, another company that focused on air pollution equipment.
"When I started at Neundorfer, I didn't know anything about coal or precipitators," Ed recalls. "But, I did know about electrical controls."
Ed started working for Neundorfer July 5, 1989, and has been with the company ever since. He says field service work is rewarding because it provides an opportunity to troubleshoot and fix equipment that improves the environment.
"What I enjoy most about my work is problem-solving," Ed notes. "That's the main thing I do, and I've always enjoyed it. I don't look at problems as a negative thing. If I can solve the problem, that's a good thing."
1. Following the death of its founder, John Hirt, in 1993, HIRT Combustion Engineers was dissolved. Some of the company's intellectual property (for products including oxidizer burners) was purchased by other firms.
2. In 1980, African American comedian Richard Pryor set himself on fire while high in cocaine, and suffered severe burns covering more than half his body. He spent more than 6 weeks recovering at Sherman Oaks.
3. Solar 1 plant built in 1982.
In Your Own Words...
Most Memorable Safety Experience
"I once had an electrical panel explode in my face. I was checking a circuit on an air conditioning system at the plant where I worked. Something happened that caused a short circuit, and the panel exploded. I had third degree burns on my face, neck, hands, and arms. The skin was just hanging off my arms. I went to the Sherman Oaks Burn Center, and had the same doctor who treated Richard Pryor when he caught himself on fire2. I still have a scar on one arm."
Most Interesting Field Service Experience
"Sometime around 1980, I worked on one of the very first solar plants3 in the country. It was out in the desert in California, where it can get extremely cold in the winter. But I didn't think about that, because where I lived it was warm. When I arrived and got out of the truck, I noticed everyone had parkas on. The guy I was working for said, 'Don't worry. I'll fix you up.' But he didn't give me a coat.
The plant used mirrors as parabolic reflectors that tracked the sun; each mirror, roughly 20'x20', was pointed at a boiler 50-100 feet in the air. The boiler was painted black to absorb the sun's rays. That's how they produced electricity. They had this whole field of mirrors. My supervisor at the plant adjusted two of the parabolic reflectors, each about 30 feet away from me, so they pointed at the area I was working in, and it was just as warm as toast. Because the reflectors were so precise, it was like being in another solar system: I had two suns, two perfect shadows of everything I was working on."