Union pipefitters help homeowners in need prep for cold weather

Avery Peterson (L) and Jim Westphall take a service call on St. Paul’s east side.

Union pipefitters fanned out across the Twin Cities metro area Saturday to provide free furnace repairs and inspections to 100 low-income, senior and disabled homeowners.

It marked another successful year for Project Heat’s On, the community service initiative sponsored by local pipe trades unions and their signatory contractors.

“I’ve got my talent, and I might as well give my talent back to the community,” said Jim Westphall, a newly retired member of St. Paul Steamfitters Pipefitters Local 455. “I might as well pay it forward.”

Westphall partnered Saturday with his former co-worker at Cities 1 Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning, Avery Peterson. For Westphall, it was his 23rd Heat’s On experience. For Peterson, it was the first.

“With our training, this is something we can give back to help people save a little bit of money,” the first-year apprentice said. “It’s nice to give back, and I’ll be back for many years to come in my career.”

Inside a home on St. Paul’s east side, Peterson and Westphall performed a routine maintenance check on the furnace, pulling and cleaning the burners, cleaning the flame rod and replacing the filter.

“You want to make sure the flame rods are clean because if they’re not, the furnace will fail in the middle of winter,” Westphall said.

They also changed the batteries in the home’s thermostat, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.

Before providing free furnace inspection and repairs to Twin Cities homeowners, union pipefitters gather with elected officials and community leaders at a Roseville hotel for the Project Heat’s On volunteer breakfast.

Since its inception in 1986, Project Heat’s On has provided service calls to more than 8,200 households. Union pipefitters have donated more than 37,000 hours of volunteer labor, and with contractors covering the cost of parts and other improvements.

Organizers estimate the value of repairs and service provided through the program is nearly $4 million.

Local 455 and Minneapolis-based Pipefitters Local 539 and their contractors work with Community Action Partnership agencies in the metro to identify homeowners in need of assistance.

“Local 455 has so many proud members that are willing to give back to the community,” Local 455 Business Manager Tony Poole said. “I’m thankful to be a part of such a great organization.”

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