CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Aug. 7, 2020) – When the residents of Building 1050 here began to sweat because of a broken air conditioner, those in charge of fixing it began to sweat too, and not necessarily because of the humid, 90-degree weather.
The 68-unit building has more than 150 residents, including pregnant women with small children, so the heat was on, literally and figuratively, for personnel to work as quickly as possible to determine why the air conditioner broke, find replacement parts, get them delivered, and make the repair.
As soon as the call came in the morning of Aug. 4, personnel began working to fix the system and mitigate the discomfort of residents, said Dennis Nelson, chief of the Operations and Maintenance Division of the Directorate of Public Works, U.S. Army Garrison Japan.
To help cool off residents, personnel hooked up water from a fire hydrant to the air conditioning system and ran cool water through it so residents would have some relief, Nelson said.
Personnel instructed residents to keep their air conditioners running to help create air flow with the cooler air and advised on the best ways to set up fans. They also advised that once the sun went down, open windows would allow a cool breeze to enter the apartments.
In addition, personnel set up two large, portable air conditioners in the building’s lobby so residents could cool off there, Nelson said.
For those who wanted more space, they could visit the nearby Camp Zama Youth Center during the day, which has a large, air-conditioned gymnasium, Nelson said.
For the night of Aug. 5, garrison officials secured funding so residents could stay in hotels on base at Camp Zama and Naval Air Facility Atsugi, which is about four miles from Camp Zama, officials said.
Jeff Baulknight, chief of the Housing Management Division, DPW, USAG Japan, said housing opened the offer to all the building’s residents, and 10 families took them up on it.
In all, the repair took 56 hours from start to finish, Nelson said. Personnel completed the repair at about 3 p.m. Aug. 6.
The air conditioning unit itself is large—it includes a 108-ton chiller and requires a roughly 800-square-foot room to house it, Nelson said. The unit is 21 years old.
Personnel might have been able to finish the job sooner, but after a brief hope that the parts might be available in nearby Yokohama, it turned out the closest place to get the parts was near Osaka, nearly 300 miles away, Nelson said.
After a quick order, the parts arrived at a warehouse in Atsugi at about 11 p.m. Aug. 5, but the contractor couldn’t pick them up until the receiving business opened at 8 a.m. the following morning, officials said.
When the business opened, a representative was waiting and immediately brought the parts to Camp Zama, Nelson said.
In the meantime, personnel had prepped the system so all they had to do was install the parts, Nelson said.
“They already did all the prep work late last night and early this morning to get the system ready,” Nelson said Aug. 6, “so all we had to do was get those parts in place and then start getting the system back up. So they did a lot of work ahead of time. They didn’t wait.”
Larry Allar, chief of the Buildings and Grounds Branch, DPW, USAG Japan, said it heartened him to see the reactions of many residents.
“A lot of people understood,” Allar said. “They understood the challenge; they understood and encouraged us.”
Among them, Allar said, was Building 1050 resident Emilia Vallejo, who brought workers water and allowed personnel to periodically test the temperature in her apartment on the fifth floor.
Vallejo, a civilian transportation assistant who has worked at Camp Zama for about a year, said she was happy to help them.
“I do appreciate their effort to get it done, to get it fixed quickly, and I’m grateful that it’s working now,” said Vallejo Aug. 7. “So I’m thankful that it’s back to normal. I know these guys work so hard, so kudos to all of them.”
Baulknight said the garrison plans to renovate the building in fiscal 2027, and until then, the plan is to keep the air conditioning unit in good repair.
To avoid a similar situation in the future, Nelson said garrison officials have instructed the contractor to identify parts that could break, based on installation date, and have replacements on hand in case of failure.
Also, officials are researching local, mobile air conditioning systems they could bring to the site and attach directly to the system should it fail again, Nelson said.
“We hate to disappoint the community when things like this happen,” Nelson said. “We take great pride in the work we do and in maintaining customer satisfaction, but sometimes it’s just out of our control and all we can do is work hard and do the best we can when things do go wrong.”