HVAC repair workers take pride in helping Nevadans beat the heat in summer

Nikki Kahalehili’s outstretched, tattooed arm grabbed the gray aluminum extension ladder as she made her way to the backyard of a two-story house in northwest Las Vegas.

It was the second service for the Goettl air conditioning and plumbing technician on this early August morning when temperatures hit triple digits by mid-morning.

In the summer, the 29-year-old spends between 60 and 80 hours in her six-day work week, as the consequences of living in a house with a broken air conditioner range from uncomfortable to deadly.

Inadequate air conditioning is a risk factor for heat stroke, according to the Mayo Clinic, which notes, “fans can make you feel better, but in prolonged hot weather, air conditioning is the most effective way to cool down and lower humidity.”

Likewise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that “exposure to air conditioning for even a few hours a day will reduce the risk of heat-related illness” when temperatures reach the high 90s.

Despite the blistering, long, strenuous hours that Kahalehili can keep from her loved ones, especially during this season, she described her career as fulfilling. After all, she’s helping families in Las Vegas get a reprieve from the dangerous heat — the area has been warned of extreme heat several times this summer, including in mid-July when temperatures hit a record 117 degrees.

“It’s very time consuming,” Kahalehili said. “You have to warn your families during the summer that you just won’t be there all the time. You won’t always be available.”

On average, Goettl’s roughly 70 technicians responded to 85 daily calls in southern Nevada, compared to about 50 calls during the winter months, company spokeswoman Hannah Sunderman said.

So is Charles Walley, a new homeowner who called the company for a maintenance check — those preventative measures are vital to keeping the units running at full capacity, technicians said.

Technicians are qualified to maintain, repair and replace air conditioning and heating systems. They also check the thermostat and wiring. Usually, the problem is “you come in front of you, you just have to find it,” Kahalehili said.

On her first appointment this day, a routine maintenance visit in south Las Vegas, Kahalehili turned the unit off, unscrewed the top panel, and plugged in a diagnostic device synced to a tablet, which displayed her readings and photos of the unit. If she got a snag, the tablet readers would allow a supervisor at headquarters to guide her through issues, she said.

The company is negotiating with customers who may be strapped for cash, which is relevant during a global pandemic when so many people are out of work and now trying to get back on their feet, she said.

Sometimes they’re difficult conversations to have, she said. “I try to help customers as much as possible, with the manager’s approval of course.”

“For some of them, when it really rains, it pours, and you have to deal with that,” she said. “You have to make them feel comfortable, because they are already in a very uncomfortable situation; you have to make up for the moment.”

Sahara Air Conditioning and Cooling is in high demand all year round, said Matt Lindsey, a representative with the company.

Sahara employs about half a dozen technicians, whose individual calls range from six to eight a day, servicing air conditioners in the heat and heaters in the cold. Their days start at 7 a.m. and can last until 10 p.m., Lindsey said.

“Some work seven days a week,” he said. “There’s not very (much) downtime here in Vegas.”

Air Conditioning Contractors of America, a national trade group that includes both Goettl and Sahara, does not keep records of service visits. Some days, Kahalehili says jokingly, it’s easy to lose track of the high volume.

On slow summer days, Kahalehili said she was lucky to be home at 5:45 PM. When it’s busy, like the day before she checked Walley’s air conditioner, she wasn’t ready until 10:30 p.m.

“Doing HVAC was a blessing in disguise because I really love it,” says Kahalehili, who had other jobs after graduating from Liberty High School, such as in convention services and in a coffee shop. “I feel valued by the company I work for. They give me a lot of responsibility.”

Sometimes in the field she meets retired male HVAC technicians who are pleasantly surprised that the field has become more diverse. She is one of three female technicians Goettl employs in Las Vegas, Sunderman said.

It’s worth “for them to be excited to see me and cheer me on when they don’t even know me,” Kahalehili said.

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