Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago Offers Help to Active-duty Military Families

When Kerry James tried to fire up her 35-year-old furnace last fall, it let her know its time had come.

James has four small children and a husband several hours away. He’s awaiting deployment to Germany with the Illinois Air National Guard. She knew it was up to her to get the problem fixed – fast.

That is where Heat for Heroes came in.

The program is an effort of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago, along with the members of Local 597. The mission is to offer free repair or replacement of furnaces for families of active-duty military men and women.

"I was scared when this happened. I have young children that I'm totally responsible for when Kevin is gone. I wasn't expecting this to be so easy and really don't know what I would have done without them," James said.

The scenario is exactly why Heat for Heroes exists, said Stephen Lamb, executive vice president of MCA Chicago. Approximately 20 contractors are signed on to help.

“We are thankful for the sacrifice our military men and women, and their families, make for our country,” Lamb said. “We believe everyone should use their skills and abilities to help others. Our contractors are the best in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning arena. We are honored to put those skills to work for these families.”

To start the process for the James family, Kerry James contacted her husband’s supervisor. Chief Master Sergeant Tim Penwell put James in touch with Amy Quimby, airmen and family readiness program manager in Peoria, where James’ husband is stationed. Quimby knew the right people to help James out.

Hill Mechanical of Franklin Park, Ill., arrived at James’ home the same day. Service technicians examined the furnace to determine next steps for getting it back up and running for the family.

"The furnace was 35 years old and, frankly, it just didn't make sense to repair it,” said John O’Brien, general service supervisor at Hill. “So, we put in a new furnace. We could have fixed it but it would mean pouring more money into it down the road. The new furnace is great for them as it's higher efficiency and will last them a long time.”

Hill Mechanical donated the furnace, as well as all the parts and labor involved.

"We're happy to do our part for this program,” O'Brien said. “These military folks take care of our country and we're happy to give back."

The Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago is proud of its Heat for Heroes program. "Our contractors here in Chicago did not hesitate to get involved when approached to be a part of the program," Lamb said.

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