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Virginia Journal of Education


Ten Minutes With...Mitch Cunningham

 

Position: Master Electrician
Local Assn.: Loudoun Education Association
Years worked in education: 10 years

What is a typical school day like for you?
As an electrician, I provide service to the many schools, so a typical day for me is to respond as safely, quickly and efficiently as I can to the numerous work orders I receive. I prioritize these and head for the school with the most urgent request. I also need to be able to drop what I’m doing to respond to any emergency calls in my assigned area of coverage (these usually occur as a result of a power outage caused by inclement weather or a minor disruption from the power company because of all the new construction going on in Loudoun County).

What do you like about your job?
The fact that no two days are ever the same. I enjoy challenges like when my customers request power to be provided for an electrical circuit where one does not presently exist. You actually become part engineer, part sleuth and part electrician when you dive into fulfilling the work request to the customer’s satisfaction, all the while meeting the requirements of all the national, state and local electrical codes involved. I’ve got to answer questions like, Where am I going to find the power for this equipment? What barriers will I confront? How do I run this electrical circuit with the minimum of disturbance to the classroom atmosphere? It truly is both challenging yet gratifying when you complete the task on hand and the customer says you’ve exceeded their expectations.

What is hard about your job?
The one thing that makes my job harder than it should be is the lack of communication between the various trades and management. Far too often, the entire scope of a job is not disclosed or pertinent information is not revealed until the task is already started and you have to backtrack on work already completed to make allowances for items not discussed when you initially started the project. As you can imagine this becomes frustrating and adds extra time and cost to the job, not to mention the frustration the customer feels. Most of the time this could be avoided if all parties involved (for example the customer, management, electricians, carpenters, HVAC, communications, etc.) would just sit down together and discuss the task at hand. I’m sure everything would work out in a more streamlined manner if a little more effort was placed on communication.

What are some of the most unusual things that have happened on the job?
About a month after I’d started working for the school system a colleague, Dean Griffith, and I were working on the roof of a school when we heard a loud crash. Across the road, a woman had wrecked into a line of pine trees; her car was actually wedged between two of them. She’d also ruptured the car’s gas line, which started a fire underneath the engine. Dean and I ran to her aid just as the flames were beginning to engulf the front of the car. Fortunately, her back doors were unlocked and I was able to get inside, release her from her seatbelt, and pull her out through the passenger side rear door, moments before the car and surrounding trees went up in flames. First responders arrived minutes later to treat the woman for shock and to put out the fire, which had also burned a boat stored nearby. The woman survived but her car was a total loss, along with the landowner’s trees and boat. Dean and I were recognized by the Loudoun County School District and Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce with the 2007 Citizens Award for Valor in recognition for our act of courage under emergency circumstances. What a way to start your career.

How has being an Association member been helpful to you?
One example of the importance of being a member of the Loudoun Education Association is the support from the Association I’ve had when I wanted to establish a Safety Committee for Facilities Services. For far too long, occupational safety was not being addressed on the job as it should, which was beginning to be reflected in the number and severity of accidents that were happening. With the help of LEA’s UniServ Directors and two different LEA presidents, we’ve begun, slowly but surely, to address the many hazards craft persons, custodians and general maintenance workers face each day. If not for LEA’s support, I cannot imagine this endeavor ever getting off the ground like it has.

 

 


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