John, 53, is an instructor at The Refrigeration School. He teaches Phase 9 (Refrigeration Systems & Practices) of the Refrigeration Technologies program. Born in Victoria, Canada, and raised in Hawaii, John came to Arizona in 1992. He joined RSI six months ago with 33 years’ experience in the field.
Thanks for your time, John. Tell us how you got started.
I got out of high school and went to college to get my degree in Architectural Drafting & Engineering. While in college I enlisted in the U.S. Army. I got my job title from the Army, and they told me I was going to be a 52Charlie: Utilities Equipment Repairer (52C). I had no idea what it was. I knew nothing about it. They told me it was a good job because I could do it when I got out. I was a 19-year-old punk; I thought there’s no way I’m going to do this when I get out. Well, here I am 33 years later, still doing air conditioning and refrigeration! So that’s how I got my start in this field. It’s been a great ride; it’s done a lot for me—everything for me—and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to do it.
Thank you for your service John; please give us the highlights of your career.
After the Army I spent 15 years doing controls work for the TRANE company. I’ve also done residential and commercial HVAC, but for the last 15 years or so, it’s been all commercial refrigeration, mostly restaurant work. I also did 18 months contract work with Wal-Mart dealing with their big rack systems. I’m still not an expert on the big rack systems, but I know how they operate.
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Why did you decide to become an instructor?
It was time for me to get off the roof, to get out of the heat. You know you start hitting an age where your body tells you it’s time to do something else. I looked around to see what I could do that would keep me in this field. This was an opportunity that came up through someone I know at the school, so I took it.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
The students and being able to share my 33 years’ experience and insight of how to do this job. I really enjoy it. I was always educating customers on how everything works, what it takes to make it work out in the field. So in essence, I’ve been teaching my whole life. This is just a different way of teaching.
What kind of things do you share?
I like to tell them what they can expect in the field, what it’s really like out there, and what to do or what not to do in certain situations. I tell them that the biggest thing that got me through my 33 years was my attitude. You have to keep a good attitude to do this job. If you get a service call at 3 a.m., 3 p.m., or 8 p.m., in the rain or if it’s 120 degrees, you have to keep a good attitude. It doesn’t matter what time it is, or what the weather is—just go do your job with a good attitude and go on to the next one.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you?
I do woodworking. I like to build stuff out of wood. I build mostly tables in my garage. I’ll just get some lumber and start making something. I don’t sell it, I just make things for myself or friends.
What did you want to be when you were young?
When I was a young boy, I wanted to be a commercial fisherman or work the tugboats on the ocean. My father was a commercial fisherman, and I loved the ocean. I still do.
If you weren’t a teacher what would you be?
If I had enough money, I’d buy a boat and take people out on tours. As I said, I love the ocean. We try to go to Canada at least once a year. I love salmon fishing. I love to go up on the west coast of Vancouver Island and go fishing. If I catch something, that’s even better.
Tell us about your family.
I’m married. I have two stepsons, one German Shepherd Dog, and three cats.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
It would be my grandfather on my mother’s side, Michael Cashin. He passed away prior to my birth. He was born in Newfoundland in 1893 and served in the (British) Royal Navy from 1915 to 1919, during World War 1. He was on three boats that sank, and he once spent seven hours floating in the North Sea waiting to be picked up. He was wounded. He was shot in the ear, and the bullet came out his mouth. It took part of his tongue off. He used to tell my mother, “If you lie, they’ll cut your tongue out!” Then he’d stick his tongue out and say, “See!” It would be interesting to chat with him and learn more about his life story. I don’t think he shared too much with anyone, but I’d like to give it a shot.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students considering RSI?
Keep a good attitude, because this isn’t an easy job, but then again, it isn’t hard either. But you’re going to have more hard days than you will easy days. Keep your head straight and keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t let others distract you or interfere with you because of their attitude. Stay on your path and stay cool. Just keep a good head and stay steady. That’s going to get you further than anything.
What was your favorite tool in the field?
My brain. You can’t fix anything without your brain or an education. Whether your education is in a school like RSI, or the school of hard knocks. Your memory is what keeps you going. You remember what you did wrong, or what you did right, and what you need to do to finish the job right. Your brain is what tells you what tool to use.
What was your favorite part of your time in the field?
Regardless of whether I was doing residential HVAC, commercial HVAC, or refrigeration, there is one thing they all have in common: I was helping somebody. I was helping them to be comfortable, or helping business owners keep product cool so it didn’t spoil. When you go to a service call, just keep one thing in mind. When you leave, you’re either going to be a hero or a zero. There’s no in-between. You always want to be the hero. Do everything you can possibly do, so that when you leave everything is working fine and there are no call backs. Always leave a hero, no matter how you do it. You may need to call for help, get somebody else out there to help you, but just make it happen.
You get an unexpected day off, what would you do with that time?
I’d just come home and start doing something with the wood. I’d start building something, get a new project going. It’s my way to relax, and it keeps me off the couch.
If you were to tell someone “thank you” for making you the man you are today, who would it be?
I would thank my mother Kathleen. She raised my brother and I mostly as a single parent. She instilled in me the values that I still have today, and for that I am very grateful. She lives in Indiana now, and I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like.