If you have trouble keeping track of your belongings from one day to the next, imagine the challenge involved in keeping track of nearly 6,000 items in 327 buildings. Sound like a full-time job? For John Rhoades, a safety officer in Facilities and Services, it is. Rhoades is responsible for tracking, inspecting and arranging for maintenance and replacement of the thousands of fire extinguishers throughout campus. Rhoades began his career at the UI in September 2001 as a night-shift building service worker, then transferred to the moving crew for six months before starting his current job in July 2004. Rhoades’ dedication to his work earned him a “Most Valuable Person” award from F&S in September 2006.
Tell me about your job.
When I began this job, I helped my boss – who is now retired – with coordinating the inspection and testing of all the fire-protection systems on campus: fire alarms, sprinklers, standpipes, fire pumps, foam systems, carbon dioxide systems and fire extinguishers.
When my boss retired, my new boss asked me to concentrate on the fire-extinguisher program, and in 2006 I went to the state fire marshall’s office, took a test and got my fire equipment distributor employee license, which allows me to do the annual inspections and hang the tags on the extinguishers.
Because of the size of the campus and because we don’t currently have the tools to do routine testing and maintenance, we have help from a contractor, Getz Fire Equipment. But I go out and inspect them, and if extinguishers need service, testing (done every six years) or maintenance, I pull them for Getz to pick up. I substitute another extinguisher of the same size and type while they’re being serviced. And when an extinguisher is returned, I rotate it into an appropriate slot somewhere else.
How do you keep track of all those fire extinguishers?
I’m creating a database of all the fire extinguishers out there for each building – the type, size, manufacturer and when routine maintenance is due – so we can forecast our expenditures. I have compiled a couple of master spreadsheets, and by serial number we can track where any extinguisher is in any building. I’m using AutoCAD to develop a map of where all the extinguishers are located.
I spent about eight to 10 months going into every single building and inventorying the extinguishers, determining if they were appropriate.
We have about 5,955 extinguishers on campus, but it never stays the same. The campus is always expanding and there are always remodeling projects under way, so the number of extinguishers is always increasing. Sometimes remodeling projects require the number, size or type of extinguishers to change because the buildings expand or the types of hazards in them change. We also have off-campus locations, such as in Rantoul, two sites on High Cross Road in Urbana as well as offices or labs on Monticello Road and Devonshire Drive. By the time we get done doing annual inspections on all of them, it’s time to start over again. Sometimes I’ll get a call from someone at an off-campus location that we were unaware of asking if we’ll inspect their equipment.
To do the annual inspections, we have the campus divided into 44 zones and basically start at the north end at Beckman Institute and work our way south. There’s more involved than just wiping off the extinguisher and hanging the tag. We have to make sure that the maps or spreadsheets are as accurate as possible and be aware of the hazards that are present so the right type of equipment is available.
What do you like most about your job?
I have the best of both worlds – office work and field work. I kid you not, I’ve got the best job in the world.
What did you do before you came to the UI?
I worked for Champaign Overhead Door Co., installing and servicing residential and commercial garage doors and receiving dock doors and openers. Prior to that, I worked for Champaign Asphalt Co. and for Collegiate Cap and Gown as an OSHA and safety compliance officer.
I have a bachelor of science degree in industrial technology from Illinois State University.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I lift weights and work out at Gold’s Gym. I like to read a lot, mostly politically-oriented stuff. I’m currently reading “Hughes,” a biography of Howard Hughes.
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