Filling a need


Feature Story

With Hudson Valley market booming, HVOHC donates equipment for service-tech training


Kelly Stevens, 26, and Harry Hornbeck, 42, work on an oil furnace in Ulster.

Faced with a growing customer base and a shortage of service technicians, the Hudson Valley Oil Heat Council has decided to provide area vocational schools with the latest equipment for their oilheat classes.

The Hudson River Valley is experiencing a housing boom as residents who live closer to New York City are lured north by the moderate price of homes. Since the majority of these new homes are heated by oil, that is great news for Hudson Valley oilheat dealers. But it creates a problem. Area dealers need more service technicians.

To help ease this situation, the board members of the Hudson Valley Oil Heat Council undertook to supply three local vocational schools with up-to-date oilheat equipment for their courses.

‘We know the jobs are there,” said Dominick J. Porco, president of the HVOHC. Porco, who is also president of Porco Energy Corp., Marlboro, N.Y., said, ‘Graduates of these classes can help our businesses grow. As the housing market booms, we will all need more technicians.”

The results are promising. Classes draw seven to 20 students each semester. The three schools involved in the program are the Ulster County Board of Cooperative Educational Services, the Dutchess County BOCES and the Rockland County BOCES.


Harry Hornbeck adjusts a valve on a control board donated by the HVOHC.

A local supplier, F.W. Webb of Albany, N.Y., represented by Brian Doyle, a member of the HVOHC board of directors, delivered the equipment. Each school received whatever they asked for, Doyle said. The water heaters, boilers and furnaces were donated by the manufactures. F.W. Webb sold the other equipment to the HVOHC at cost, Doyle said. The total cost to the council was about $11,000, funded through the council’s share of the NORA funds for their district, which includes Sullivan, Orange, Ulster, Dutchess, Rockland and Putnam counties.

Has the new equipment helped? ‘Oh, God, yes,” said Al Bruno, an instructor at the Ulster County school. ‘Before we just had some old equipment to train on. Now we can teach the latest technology.” Ulster BOCES offers a course for adults three times a year.

As an example of the changing job market, Carl Phillips, 50, of West Hurley, N.Y., has worked for four different manufactures over 25 years only to find that one by one they all either closed or moved out of the Hudson Valley. Now he is a student at the Ulster County BOCES in Port Ewen, N.Y., studying to become an oilheat service technician. With the decline in manufacturing jobs, students are looking for service jobs, such as oilheat technician, for steady employment.

The Ulster school received a Peerless boiler plus Taco and Honeywell controls. The school also received testing equipment and supplies necessary to learn simple skills like working with copper tubing. Bruno estimated they had received some $5,000 in equipment. The 104-hour oilheat course meets NORA standards, he said.


Equipment arrives at the Rockland County BOCES. From the left, Freddie Mowery, a student, looks on while David Stecyk, Rosalie Sauter, a BOCES guidance counselor, and Nick Panebianco discuss the delivery.

Linnell Marshall, 31, a graduate of the Ulster BOCES course, visited the current class to explain how the oilheat training had helped him. He said that he enjoys the hands-on work of a technician. When he is out in the field, he is on his own. ‘You get to use your brain,” he said.

That same evening, other Ulster students were being instructed on how to take apart a burner on one of the furnaces contributed by the HVOHC. Kelly Stevens, 26, of Highland, N.Y., said that he had just become a father and needed a career to support his new family. ‘I don’t mind getting dirty. Bring on the dirt,” he exclaimed.

Dutchess County BOCES in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., offers a North American Technician Excellence-recognized HVAC course for adults that meets five days a week, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., for eight weeks. Robert Butler, program developer, said they received two Bryant warm-air oil furnaces with Riello burners. In addition, the school received testing and service equipment.

Like Bruno, Butler said the new equipment means that they are able to familiarize the students with the latest technology. ‘Even though they will be working with older equipment in the field, we hope that they will be removing it to replace it with the latest energy-efficient technology,” he said.

At the Dutchess school, Terrance Taylor, 23, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was working along with two other students on the furnace/AC unit. The men were recovering the refrigerant in the process of recharging the coolant. Taylor said that he had a job as a forklift driver in one of the many distribution centers in the region. He was taking the BOCES course so he could learn new skills that would allow him to get a better paying and more secure job.

The third school to receive equipment was the Rockland BOCES in West Nyack, N.Y. While the other two schools offer adult classes, as well as classes for high school students, Rockland does not presently have an adult class. When the equipment was moved into the schools campus in West Nyack this spring, the classroom, which had formerly been a auto-shop bay, still had a lift. ‘We will be moving that out of here so we get things set up,” said Gary Lawrence, class instructor.

The Rockland school received a Weil McLain boiler and hot-water heater, in addition to service and testing equipment.


Dorrell Kitson, from the left, Terrance Taylor and Peter Sampagna work on the coolant system of a combination furnace/AC system at the Dutchess BOCES.

Marco Panebianco, the son of HVOHC board member Nick Panebianco, was a student in the Rockland BOCES class. The students were all on hand when the new equipment arrived, as was the school’s principal.

As part of the hands-on approach, the Rockland BOCES students are building a ‘home” on the campus so they can practice their newly learned skills. The house will have two heating systems: one that uses oil and one that is fueled by natural gas.

‘I think our investment in these programs will pay dividends in the future,” said Panebianco. ‘Oilheat is a service business and the better trained our technicians are, the better service we can provide. The technician is the one individual the homeowner actually meets. He or she is the face of the company.”

‘The board is very pleased with the program. In these days of tight budgets, all the schools were delighted to receive the equipment,” said Porco. ‘Other areas where housing is booming might be interested in considering similar programs.”

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