When the heat is on, shop owners get creative to cool down

Two men eating popsicles in a garage
Tony Owens and Josh Sorenson, techs at the Madison, Wisconsin, Kriete Truck Center, enjoy popsicles to stay cool.
Kriete Truck Centers

Summer 2023 is baking the U.S.

Reno, Nevada, hit 108 degrees in July. Las Vegas saw 116. Phoenix on one day that month notched a low temperature of 97. That city's average daily temperature is now 108 degrees, its highest on record. Even in cooler Colorado, Grand Junction sweltered at 107. 

Brett and Debbie Graham own Graham Truck Centers, which operates three locations in Texas and one in Oklahoma. The Grahams also have 22 mobile service trucks. 

"You're just trying to keep the wheels on the bus," Brett Graham says, outlining his beat-the-heat game plan of cooling towels, ice, popsicles, ice cream, flexible schedules, hydration powders and lighter uniforms. They also reiterate the importance of the works their techs do keeping trucks on the road. 

"If we don't have them to keep these trucks rolling, people won't get their goods, kids won't get to school," Brett Graham says. "We really try to remind them of what an important job they're doing." 

Showing up with popsicles also reminds technicians the shop owner cares, and that can go a long way toward keeping that tech in that shop. 

"Recognition is important," Brett Graham says. For younger employees, money is not at the top of their list for what they want in a job, but things like getting to know them and caring about them are. 

Ice cream is also an important factor of Kriete Truck Centers' cooling strategy. The company has 10 locations across Wisconsin and is fortunate in that they don't experience the same heat as, say, Texas or the Deep South. Still, it can get warm enough to be uncomfortable. 

"We run barn fans and swamp coolers (fans with water circulating through them) in our shops," says Bob Spatz, director of dealer operations at Kriete. "We also provide complimentary Gatorade and ice cream." 

People toss water balloons in a parking lot on a sunny day.Penn Fleet employees had a water balloon fight recently as a way to cool down and have fun.Penn Fleet

Sandi Rapp, president of Penn Fleet in Pennsylvania, made up care packages for her techs. 

"At first, they looked at me like, 'OK, Mom,'" Rapp says. But then, she says the cooling towels were on necks and Gatorades in hands. 

Rapp says their 20-bay garage has fans everywhere and keeps the bay doors open to keep it cool, but summer heat is still a battle. She's brought in ice cream trucks and keeps electrolyte pops in the garage freezer. The company stresses heat safety and hydration and accommodates an earlier schedule if techs want it so they can work in the cooler parts of the day. Last month, Penn Fleet even had a water balloon fight. 

"Sometimes, you need to laugh, you need to have fun, and what better way to cool down than with some water balloons," Rapp asks. 

Brett Graham says when temperatures spike, so do tempers. He stresses to his management team that summer is not the time to draw a line in the sand. 

"This is a tough job in extreme heat. There are going to be days when tempers flare, and showing the techs grade and appreciation is very important. It is not the time of year to be drawing lines in the sand," Brett Graham says. 

Mobile techs have it a little easier, Brett Graham says, because they get gulps of air conditioning in the truck between calls. And technicians in newer shops may even have the opportunity to work in full A/C (he only knows of one truck center in north Texas that has an air conditioned garage). It's nearly impossible, he says, to retrofit an older shop with air conditioning and have it work properly. 

That's where companies like Cool Boss come in. 

Cool Boss says its portable evaporative air coolers can drop the temperature by up to 26 degrees. The CB-28 and CB-36 models also feature air ionizers to clean the air along with extras such as Bluetooth players and LED floodlights. 

A pair of evaporative air coolers from Cool Boss.Cool Boss' two largest models can drop the air temperature by as much as 26 degrees, the company says.Cool Boss"Put the days of dark, dirty, hot shops behind you," says Lee Franklin, Cool Boss product manager. "These big coolers keep techs more comfortable and productive year-round." 

Franklin says by cooling workspaces, you not only make your workers more comfortable but also more productive and more likely to stay at your shop. 

"Anyone who has ever worked in a hot place will tell you that being drenched in sweat and breathing in stale air is not a recipe for a safe and productive day," Franklin says. "Working in such discomfort drains the body and the resulting fatigue can slow down a worker, leading him or her to make a mistake that impacts their safety or that of coworkers." 

Depending on the temperature, some workplaces may even be required to cool their employees down, Franklin says. 

"Under OSHA rules, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards, including protecting workers from extreme heat," Franklin says. "California, Minnesota and Washington also have specific state laws governing on-the-job heat exposure." 

Penn Fleet's Rapp says her company also does lots of education about heat safety. According to the National Weather Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these are some of the signs of heat-related illness:

  • Heat cramps may be the first sign the heat is becoming a problem. Symptoms include muscle cramps and spasms, usually in the legs and abdomen. It can be accompanied by heavy sweating. To treat heat cramps, apply firm pressure on cramping muscles or gently massage them to relieve spasms. Have the person take sips of water unless they're also complaining of nausea. Seek medical attention if cramps last longer than an hour. 
  • Heat exhaustion is the next level of heat illness. A person will sweat heavily, feel weak or tired, and have cool, pale or clammy skin. They may have a weak pulse, muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, a headache or they may faint. Move this person to a cooler environment, such as an air conditioned room. Loosen their clothing and apply cool, wet cloths. Offer sips of water. Seek immediate medical attention if the person vomits, symptoms worsen or if the symptoms last longer than one hour. 
  • Heat stroke is a medical emergency and can cause death or permanent injury. Symptoms include a throbbing headache, confusion, dizziness and a body temperature greater than 103 degrees. The victim's skin will be hot, red, dry or damp. They will have a rapid, strong pulse and may faint or lose consciousness. You should call 911 or get the affected person to a hospital immediately. Move them to an air conditioned environment as soon as you can and reduce their body temperature with cool cloths or a bath. Do not use a fan if the head index temperatures are above the 90s; this can actually make a person hotter. Do not give this person fluids.
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