Anyone who has tried to get a group of people to reach consensus on a comfortable room temperature knows what a daunting task it can be. So just imagine the challenge of regulating the temperatures in more than two dozen buildings – some dating back several decades – that contain an assortment of systems and hundreds of people during Illinois’ fickle springtime weather. Bruce Hinman is one of the temperature control mechanics in the Facilities and Services division who diagnose and fix problems with contrary heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems on campus. Hinman, who retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1995, had 21 years’ experience as a mechanic and an instructor in the HVAC field before he joined the UI’s work force in 2001.
What do you do every day?
I take care of problems where people are too hot or too cold. It might be a single room or it might be a whole area of a building.
We run into problems as far as thermostats, heating valves stuck shut, valves leaking. If the temperature is too warm or too cold in a space that’s controlled by an air handler, I have to go look at the controls. Hopefully there’s not an outside air damper that’s fallen off the wall so that the air handler is discharging a colder temperature than what it’s supposed to.
In the spring and fall, you may need some heat in the morning and air conditioning in the afternoon. People think that we can just flip a switch, but it doesn’t work that way.
Do you have a certain area of campus that you cover?
I have 27 buildings: from the Armory up to Colonel Wolfe School, the Vivarium, Talbot Lab and the whole west side of the Quad as well as the buildings on Wright and Sixth streets and Personnel Services. It’s a big area, but mine’s not the biggest zone in the shop. We have basically 12 people in our shop, including our boss. It’s a lot of walking.
Is this a challenging environment because we have such a mixture of old and new buildings and systems?
Oh, yeah, and that’s why I think I’m well suited for it because when I was in the service I became familiar with all the different brands. I think the most challenging part is trying to get the controls on the air handlers set up and operating to make all the customers happy. You know how difficult that can be when you have numerous people in the same office.
What’s your favorite part about what you do?
I enjoy solving problems. For instance, the Library and Information Science building was remodeled 10 years ago, and I’m still finding problems that they didn’t pick up on when they remodeled the building. I think I’ve found about half a dozen problems that were directly related to the renovation that was done.
I feel like it puts a feather in my cap if I can find and fix a problem that nobody else has been able to find. I enjoy working with pneumatics and interacting with the people on my route.
What are your interests away from work?
I enjoy woodworking and have built kitchen chairs, bunk beds, jewelry boxes, dressers and entertainment centers. A lot of it is just stuff I make for family and friends. I think if I went into business selling it, it wouldn’t be fun anymore. It would become another job.
I’ve also got a 2002 Honda Goldwing motorcycle. My wife and I just enjoy getting on the bike and riding it.
I am also a teaching assistant at Parkland. I feel like I’ve got so much knowledge and hands-on experience that I want to pass it on to other people. I believe that somebody has to understand how something works through hands-on experience and not just memorization.
What do you enjoy about teaching?
Passing on the knowledge. Watching the students when they finally understand what I’m saying and the light bulb goes on above their head.
Eventually, my prime goal is to become an instructor out there teaching pneumatics.