Special to CONTRACTOR
STONINGTON, CONN. —While Master Sgt. Robert Slater is stationed in the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, a group of plumbing-and-heating contractors helped him out of a jam back home.
Replacing a leaky boiler that has flooded a basement is part of a contractor’s job, of course. But these contractors from the Southeast Connecticut chapter of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors did the job in mid-April for no charge for Slater’s family.
“He was serving the country, so we decided to do something for him,” said Walt Woycik of W.J. Woycik Plumbing & Heating and chapter treasurer. “I was so sick and tired of what was on the news with the war and all that we decided to do something that would be a good story.”
Woycik and Slater had attended high school together here, and though they both played sports, they never were close friends, Woycik said. Even though their homes are only five or 10 miles apart, the two had not seen each other in several years.
Slater’s mother, Helen, had been a customer of W.J. Woycik for about 10 years, however. She recommended the contractor to her daughter-in-law, Frances, when she was having problems with her boiler.
“The flooding was pretty bad,” Woycik said. “Fran told me that she was sleeping in three-hour shifts.”
Slater, who is stationed in Kuwait with the 1109th Army National Guard, talked with his wife on the phone over the course of a week as they tried to figure out how to repair or replace the leaky boiler. After Woycik had visited the house, he called Shetucket Plumbing Supply in Groton, Conn., to see if he could get a price break on a new boiler to help out the Slaters.
Brian Taylor, the supply house manager, told him that he would call him back in 10 minutes. In the meantime, Taylor called Mike Morrissey, the sales rep for Burnham Hydronics. When Taylor called Woycik back, he told him that the boiler would be donated to the Slaters.
Burnham and Shetucket Supply split the $2,400 list price for the boiler and parts. Along with the Burnham V85 hot-water boiler, other donated material included Taco circulators, an Amtrol Extrol expansion tank, Watts automatic water feeder and backflow preventer and Argo relay controls.
The PHCC got involved when chapter President Mark Fernandez of Fernandez Plumbing asked for volunteers at a chapter meeting. Those donating their time, along with Woycik and Fernandez, were: Paul Currie of Currie’s Plumbing, Heating & Cooling; Carlton Smith of Smith’s Plumbing Services; Jim Brown of Jim Brown Plumbing & Heating; Cris Kerfus and Richard Garcione of Efficient Plumbing & Heating; and Steven Long of Shetucket Plumbing Supply.
Rather than telling Frances Slater that she would not be charged, Woycik instead gave her an estimate for a $5,000 boiler replacement. As the job was being completed, he notified two local newspapers of the project and suggested that Frances Slater come home for lunch from her job at the CVS drug store so that she could be presented with the bill.
“She wondered what was going on with all the cars outside and all the people in her house,” Woycik said. “When Mark Fernandez gave her the bill for the boiler, and it was marked ‘paid in full,’ she read it again and again and started crying. She said, ‘I’ve got to pay you something,’ but Mark told her, ‘It’s on PHCC, Shetucket Plumbing Supply and Burnham.’”
The next day one of the newspapers published a photo of Frances Slater hugging her son and holding the “bill,” which displays a prominent PHCC logo. Woycik said that the chapter doesn’t have letterhead stationary, so his wife, Debra, downloaded a logo from the Internet — but only after she blew up the size.
The same afternoon of the bill presentation, Woycik made a service call to Helen Slater’s home. She told him that she had spoken to her son and gave him the news about his new boiler.
“She told me that it was almost two minutes before he said anything,” Woycik said. “Later she told me that he called back to make sure it was true.”
Slater will have to take his wife and mother’s word for it, at least for the time being. When he went overseas earlier this year, Woyik said, Slater was told that he would be staying there for the whole year.