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Every industry has idiosyncrasies; the swimming pool industry just has a lot more of them. It's really on a different level than say, the grocery industry. The largely unregulated nature of the pool and spa market allows for, and even encourages, unique characters to pick up a pole and call themselves service professionals.
But while almost anyone can say they're a qualified service technician, it's experience that separates the pros from the posers. In order to provide a benchmark, I have developed this list of criteria to help determine level of experience in the pool and spa industry. Once a service tech has experienced each of these situations, he or she can be considered to be a master of the craft.
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You are not officially a swimming pool pro until you have dealt with the repercussions of having wet feet for 16-plus hours per day for weeks or months on end. Certain times of the year can be worse than others, such as pool opening and closing season. If you open or close 10-plus pools every day for months on end, you simply cannot keep your feet dry. Sure, there are boots that can help, but the fast-paced requirements of servicing so many pools every day requires footwear that is nimble and lightweight, so in order to keep up, you end up getting used to that squish-squish sound as you walk.
Every experienced pool worker needs to know, first hand, what it feels like to get punched in the face with a chlorine gas bomb. All too many pool owners are casual about how and where they store chlorine products. And there are still many pool owners (and even a few seriously-behind-the-times professionals) who add chlorine pucks to the skimmer or pump strainer baskets. When the pump turns off and the water is stagnant, the chlorine continues to dissolve and concentrate in the water. When you open a system that is filled with chlorine gas, you will know it for sure. Your eyes will immediately close, and the acrid punch of the chlorine gas hitting your lungs will stop your breath and leave you coughing and gasping for air. Once you have permanently damaged your lung tissue with chlorine gas, you can consider yourself an experienced pool professional.
Look, nobody likes to admit that they fell in the pool...but it happens. In fact, until you have accidentally fallen into a pool while working on it, then you cannot possibly consider yourself a seasoned professional. (Though falling into the pool on a weekly or monthly basis may be an indication that you have a different kind of problem altogether.) Please note that it does not count if your wife, the pool owner, or an unhappy employee pushes you into the pool — you have to fall in of your own (careless) free will for it to count. It also does not count when you "accidentally" fall into a nice pool on a really hot day.
Every experienced pool worker has gone through this: You provide a detailed estimate for a difficult project, only to lose the bid to someone charging half as much as you are.
Now, as an experienced contractor, you know that the job cannot be done properly at that price...but good luck explaining that to a pool owner shopping for the lowest possible quote. Eventually you need to learn to let go of these situations. Either that or start carrying a blood pressure monitor in your work truck.
Every experienced pool person knows the agony of fixing something that the last guy completely destroyed. There is no way that you can call yourself an experienced pool technician until you have found yourself removing epoxy repairs, cursing and shaking your head.
A lot of pool repairs are difficult, but none are worse than those made worse by some hack "having a go at it" before you've had a chance to fix it properly. Pool owners are the worst for this — or maybe pool epoxy marketing campaigns are among the best in the world. Possibly both. Epoxy is rarely the right choice to fix anything on a swimming pool, yet its popularity endures.
You have become an experienced pool technician when you can admit you don't know something and learned how to say no to work that is not in your wheelhouse.
Bankers, politicians, accountants and mortgage brokers all rarely do anything so strenuous at work that it makes them bleed. In the swimming pool industry, however, it is normal to find yourself on the working end of a shovel for so long that your hands turn into a horror show of blood, blisters and blood blisters. Until you develop calluses on top of your calluses, you cannot possibly call yourself an experienced pool tech. The only acceptable time for an experienced pool technician to have soft, callus-free hands is if the water and pool chemicals have caused your hand skin to fall off. If you plan your plaster days around the wounds on your hands from abusive physical work and the time it takes to heal them, you are certainly a master of the swimming pool industry.
Getting sick from working in and around swimming pools is definitely a rite of passage in the pool industry. West Nile, parasites, bird flu, giardia, crypto, flesh eating diseases and many more nightmare illnesses are on the menu for people who work in and around swimming pools. (That is, of course, assuming that airborne Legionnaire's disease does not get you first.)
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When you combine these hazards with exhausting hours in all types of weather, you have the perfect storm of factors that can knock you out with some funky new sickness your doctor can only frown and shrug at. Two rules that pool workers learn early are 1) use hand sanitizer and 2) keep your fingers out of your orifices. Working with stagnant black water and then rubbing your eyes is not a smart move.
By the time you are an experienced pool technician you should be able to heartlessly pull drowned, bloated creatures out of the skimmer by the half dozen while idly considering lunch. Your care-molecules must die in order to perform your duties as a pool worker, so let them die. How can you vacuum the pool if you are unable to remove the possum blocking the skimmer opening?
Pool workers also need to be able to deal with animal and insect hazards like bees, fire ants or, in the case of Australia, great white sharks.
One rite of passage for every pool worker is to pull up to a house — you believe for the first time — open the gate and walk into the backyard, only to remember every single detail about the pool. You might not remember the house, the homeowner or the property, but upon sight of the pool you can name every piece of pool equipment and the location of the most convenient electrical outlets and hose bibs.
There comes a point where your mind just can't reconcile all of the swimming pools...there are just too many, and something has to give so your mind stuffs that information deep down in a corner somewhere. When you see the pool again, this opens the box and the memories come flooding back.
There is no way that you can consider yourself a seasoned pool professional until you have experienced an irritable neighbor who is absolutely furious that water from the pool that you are draining has touched their property in some way. Learning how to talk down angry neighbors is a fundamental part of the swimming pool apprenticeship program.
In addition to the angry neighbor, an experienced pool worker also needs to know how to deal with the nosy neighbor. Sure, you can tell the neighbor to take a hike, but an experienced pool tech knows the importance of staying on good terms — you never know when you might need to take down a fence for access to the pool area through the adjacent property!
There comes a point in every pool pro's career when they have to figure out how to tell an anxious customer that the part they need will take four to six weeks to arrive. Even worse is having to tell them that the part they already waited four to six weeks for...is not the right one. The right part is going to arrive in, wait for it...about four to six weeks.
Dealing with a customer who is having a stress-induced stroke takes years of practice — only the true master pool technician can calmly bring someone like this back from the brink of insanity. (To be fair, especially in seasonal pool areas, having your pool down for weeks during peak season can feel like an eternity.)
The final rite of passage for an experienced pool technician is learning how to operate safely and effectively with little to no sleep for extended periods of time. Until you have clocked 100 hours or more in a working week, you still have more to master before your training will be considered complete.
Most humans never need to understand the discipline it takes to work as much in one week as some full time workers in three weeks…which is a good thing. Working that much is not fun, but dealing with angry customers who want to be swimming is even less so.
Steve Goodale is a second generation swimming pool expert located in Ontario Canada. You can learn more about Steve, as well as swimming pool construction, maintenance and repair from his website: SwimmingPoolSteve.com.
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