Employee Q&A: Elevator Mechanic Fred Kuhn

Employee Q&A: Elevator Mechanic Fred Kuhn

By Alexis BlueUniversity Communications
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Fred Kuhn works to keep campus elevators on the move.
Fred Kuhn works to keep campus elevators on the move.

Fred Kuhn

Lead Elevator Mechanic, Facilities Management Elevator Shop

Number of years at the UA
2 1/2

Favorite part about working at the UA
"I like the security of the job. I like working on elevators. I enjoy repairing an elevator that's broken and seeing that it's back in service and servicing the public. It's very rewarding."

Just minutes after campus elevator shop supervisor Fred Kuhn sat down to talk with Lo Que Pasa about his work on campus, a message crackled over his radio: "There's been a report of a person stuck in Elevator 3 at the Main Library."

While those sorts of calls are infrequent, according to Kuhn, they do happen. And when they do, it's his shop that sends mechanics to the scene.

The shop has six mechanics, who are responsible for doing routine maintenance and repairs on the campus's hundreds of elevators and responding to those occasional rider-in-distress calls.

Kuhn, who has worked in the shop for 2 1/2 years and became supervisor about a month ago, took time to chat with Lo Que Pasa about the ups and downs of the elevator business.

How many elevators are there on campus?
Two hundred and seventy-five.

What kind of work do you do on the elevators?
We do routine maintenance, we do repairs, we respond to emergency calls. We also have someone that is on call 24 hours a day, after hours, and we rotate that between all of us.

How old are most of the elevators on campus?
We have elevators from the 1940s and we have brand-new elevators that are (from) 2009 and everything in between.

Do the older ones have more problems?
No ... the technology is pretty much the same from old to new. The newer elevators are all computerized, but there still have to be mechanical devices that are similar from old to new.

How often do you do routine maintenance?
We try and get to each elevator once a month (for) cleaning, lubrication; we check light bulbs.

What are the most common calls you get or repairs you have to do?
The doors of the elevator are our biggest problem because they open and close on every floor, and there's an electrical contact in there that sometimes gets dirty. There are hundreds of electrical components in the elevator (and) safety components. If you don't have a certain part of that system, the elevator won't run. Everything has to fall in place.

Which elevators on campus have the most problems?
We have a lot of problems with parking garages because a lot of those elevators are exposed to the weather; they're outside. Then we have a lot of problems at the Student Union. Behind the food court there's three elevators back there that get a lot of abuse. ... The (food service) workers beat up our elevators pretty bad; they (use them a lot to) move food and materials and supplies.

What do you do when you get a call about someone being stuck?
The first thing that we do is try and get in contact with the person to make sure that they're OK. If the elevator's in a position where we can open the doors, we can open the doors manually some of the time. And if it's near a floor, we can let the people out. If it's not near a floor, we can either try and repair the problem and get the elevator running or we can turn the elevator off and move the elevator manually to a position where we can rescue the people. But we never take people out of the escape hatch (on the top of the elevator). It's not like in the movies. Those escape hatches are locked from the outside so that people cannot go through. Years and years ago people were getting killed because they were trying to climb out, and even if the elevator was stuck you may wiggle, jiggle a contact and the elevator would take off.

How do people call for help?
There is an emergency telephone in every elevator. Those telephones in the elevator are connected to UAPD and then UAPD gets in touch (with us). They have all of our telephone numbers. During regular business hours, from 7 (a.m.) to 3:30 (p.m.) they call our dispatch. ... After 3:30 we don't carry our radios; we have our cell phones.

Do people panic when they get stuck?
Some do and some don't. Some are just fine sitting down on the floor, relaxing, and some get kind of excited. ... But if you're in the elevator, you're perfectly safe; there's nothing that's going to happen to you; it's not like the movies. Elevators are the safest mode of transportation and there's more miles traveled in elevators than any other type of transportation in the United States, more than even airlines (according to Elevator World magazine). Just think, there's 275 elevators just on the campus – this is one campus – and those elevators are (running) nonstop almost all day long during the day and they rack up a lot of miles. That's one campus. The city of Tucson has thousands of elevators.

How did you get started in the elevator business?
My father owned an elevator company. I started out after I graduated from high school (in 1973) working for his company, and it was a union company; I went through all their schooling.

Is there any danger involved in your job as a mechanic, and does that ever concern you?
There is. There are moving parts. And we have to ride on top of the elevator to perform certain maintenance. We get underneath. But we turn the elevators off and we always try to work with two people, a team. Safety is our No. 1 concern with the public and our employees.

Do you know someone who has an interesting job at the UA? Send his or her name and contact information to lqp@email.arizona.edu for consideration for a future Employee Q&A.

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