17Mar

One of the many things Zoom Drain prides itself on is that every new team member attends a ride-along after getting hired and beginning their career with the company. Potential apprentices will ride-along as a preliminary orientation but once an employee is onboarded, they get to see first hand how we do things. It doesn’t matter if you typically sit behind a desk or not, or even what department you’re in, learning the technical specifics of the day-to-day operations of our expert technicians offers a greater understanding of the service we provide our customers.

Our ride-along isn’t just one quick job but, instead, a full day experience – a multiple-stop practice that includes witnessing face-to-face customer interaction, problem solving and the various capabilities of Zoom Drain’s equipment and our service technician’s knowledge handling that equipment. It doesn’t matter if it’s residential or commercial, you follow along for the next drain and sewer problem that needs to be solved. And sometimes you don’t just watch, you help out like an apprentice, carrying supplies and asking questions – it can even get a little dirty!

I recently got the opportunity to discover what a day in the life of a Zoom Drain technician was like. For one day, I ditched my dress shoes for work boots, rolled up my sleeves and traded in the seat at my desk for a passenger seat in one of our custom-built Isuzu trucks. With a fully stocked – and sparkling clean – truck, I hit the road, to learn what it takes to be a technician.

Was I a little nervous – you bet. At 35-years-old, my professional career has sent me on an interesting journey, one where I spent significant time behind a desk or the wheel of an automobile. But I’m what I like to call “mechanically inept.” I don’t work well with tools, and even building Ikea furniture gives me a headache, so a day in the trades felt intimidating but, even though I looked like the new guy, I was immediately welcomed by Ben Kleiss, one of our Field Supervisors, who asked me questions to learn more about my background. In no time, we reached our first stop, which proved to be important even though we didn’t inspect a single pipe. 

All of the intimidation and nervousness I felt lifted quickly, interacting with the customer and inspecting their drain situation with Kleiss, who carefully explained every step of the process.

A local highrise was having issues with paper towels getting flushed and backing up their drains. It wasn’t the first time it happened and their drain frustration was clearly evident. Considering it continued to occur, we recommended a preventative maintenance plan to assure they wouldn’t be left with another mess on their hands. We sent over the information since the customer needed approval from supervisors and promised we’d be back immediately, upon agreement. They seemed eager and were pleased that it was no cost to them for us to assess the problem.

It was the perfect introduction for me to better understand the importance of the inspection.

From there it was off to a local business, where a backed up toilet was causing a headache. Something we all take for granted nearly every day but it was hindering operations. We carefully explained the process we’d need to take to find the issue and how we could defeat it. 

A camera snake quickly presented the problem to us – a clog caused by a low flow toilet that was getting more than significant use, much more than it would in a residential location. It called for our best solution – the water jet. Guiding it upwards of 25 feet, to the discovered clog, we sent a heavily-pressured stream of water, moving the hose to ensure it was breaking it all up. After pressuring other areas of the pipe, the camera went back down to be certain it was gone.

It was fascinating to see my first upclose drain clearing in progress. Each step was calculated and Kleiss had a gameplan of how he would attack it and what was the cause. There was no denying he’d done this a little more once or twice in his career and he had the experience.

Like so many of Zoom Drain’s technicians, Kleiss started as an apprentice – looking for a change from retail management. Now, at 33-years-old, he’s been with the company for almost seven years, moving up in the rankings while helping teach his skills to the next generation. He sees each drain as a challenge and has a passion for making sure every job is done correctly.

Me, on the other hand, I helped out where I could but also asked questions and learned a lot!

It was on the next stop that I began to feel like Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs. If you’re not familiar, the premise of Rowe’s television show is to send him on a job for a day to see what all goes into it, if he could handle the tasks and to spotlight careers that might not be considered glamorous. 

This stop was in another high rise apartment building, with local businesses on the ground floor, and it took plenty of examining before any work was done. With a maintenance manager monitoring our assessment and agreeing to the work, we found that the best approach was to cut open a segment of the wall and cut a portion of the vertical pipe behind it. From there, we stuck a camera down to better understand what was causing the backup and where the source of the problem was located. Turns out, there was a hole several feet down the pipe, so while we were able to jet it with water and get it clean – removing almost 60 years worth of grime, grease and whatever else was sitting in there – wastewater would still be able to exit through the hole.

After carefully explaining the issue, complete with photos from our camera snake, we then shared the next steps to fixing the hole. The drain was clearing properly but it was unclear where exactly the wastewater was draining, likely somewhere under the facility. We marked where the hole was and just how deep the pipe was, to save steps when we come back out to fix the situation, following the various approvals the facility owners need to move forward.

It was time to clean everything up, get into the truck and receive our next stop from dispatch. At this point, I noticed I had some grease and a little water on me. I felt like I had been initiated and my teacher explained to me that it was inevitable I’d get dirty. It just meant we were doing it right, because there’s times where you just have to get a little dirty to reach the proper solution.

A 20-minute journey found us at our last stop of the day, a nearby residential home that had recently had its front yard dug up, for reasons we didn’t know. After a brief conversation with the homeowner, the home had just received a new drain pipe leading to the township sewer line. A massive tree was removed and the excessive roots caused significant damage to the pipe. What we learned was that the replaced pipe wasn’t fully replaced all the way to the street, only partially, leaving several feet of the old line, which still had a chunk of roots in it.

What the customer thought was originally fixed was still resulting in a significant toilet backup. 

With the customer watching, we got to work. First, we used the camera snake to show him the issue, which was that the replaced pipe didn’t reach the township sewer and an old, five-foot section was blocked. We explained the best method would be water jetting with a special nozzle. The nozzle spins, blasting it with water as it grabs hold of the roots. After a bubbling cauldron at the pipe’s entry point and the smell of what seemed like burning roots and week-old spaghetti, we pulled out what felt like a trophy fish. It was a combination of roots, a little toilet paper and grease – a tangible thing showing the customer exactly what was the problem.

The customer snapped a couple of photos of the prized clog and we stuck the camera snake back down to assure him that everything was cleared and he’d no longer have toilet backups. The look on his face when we pulled out the clog was pure joy and he must’ve said “thank you” seven times. The sense of relief, knowing the problem was solved, was extremely rewarding.

After following up with dispatch to see what our next destination would be, back to the warehouse we went, a little tired, a little dirty but feeling a sense of accomplishment – feeling like we’d been through the day’s events together. On the way back, I reflected on the day. What I gained today was more than just firsthand knowledge of what Zoom Drain does but also an appreciation for each of our technicians and the important service they provide every day.

While tomorrow I would be heading back to my desk and my dress shoes, Kleiss would be preparing to do it all over again, cleaning the truck, interacting with customers – all of it. 

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