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A Service Legend Remembered

A Service Legend Remembered

Doc rarely gets personal in this column, but this past week Doc’s father, Walt Falke passed away at the age of 86. Doc has chosen to share a few of his Dad’s experiences that have made Walt a legend in the service industries.

With the passing of my father, Walt Falke this week, it seems there is nothing more important or appropriate to write about than the legacy Dad left behind to this industry. I’ve chosen to share a few experiences, not only to illustrate the life of Walt, but hopefully to allow each of us to reflect on our individual roles in this industry and how we approach our jobs day-to-day.

Bearer of Risk

In 1983 Dad was a service manager for a company where he had been for 23 years. One morning he invited me to breakfast and announced he was “buying the business.” He was 55 years old and it sounded risky to me.

A month later, he had mortgaged his nearly paid-for home to the hilt and put everything he had on the line for the dream of owning an air conditioning company.

He shared with me that his primary goal was to be successful enough that when he was old, he could pick through the service tickets whenever he wanted and go visit his favorite customers. He would then fix their system, drive home with a smile on his face and never send his customer an invoice...just for fun."

He repeated that practice regularly until he retired four years ago at the age of 82.

Sounds like his risk paid off. Do you have shadows of these traits as you serve your customers?


It was a January morning in 2002. Dad was 74 years old. A call came in from a customer living over a 100 miles away from the shop, high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The equipment was working, but several rooms weren’t heating well. Somebody wasn’t happy.

Pop headed for the hills. There was a little rain in the Central Valley, but as the elevation increased, the temperature fell and the valley rain gave way to deepening snow and slippery roads.

The troubled home lay a few miles off the state highway. He got to the job by following a snowplow most of the way. He repaired a couple of damaged ducts, adjusted some dampers, and delivered the comfort his customers desired.

Satisfied and happy, he chose a back road route hoping for lower altitude with the promise of less snow. Soon he found himself out of radio contact, firmly embedded in a snow bank. He was sure there were a few homes just over the ridge.

The impossible journey on foot began. A patch of ice landed him on his face with two gashes to the forehead. He remembers wringing the blood out of his handkerchief several times. The road narrowed and eventually ended up at an abandoned gold mine — with no houses in sight. Eventually he found his way back to the truck and made an attempt to clean himself up.

He then set off cross-country and waded through an “awfully cold creek.” Two hours later, he saw the welcome sight of smoke from a chimney. It was a friend of his service customer, and the two took dad back to his truck and towed him to safety.

Dad convinced him he could make it back to the shop safely. He stopped by home, cleaned up, and made a pit stop for 14 stitches in his face before returning to the shop.

Dad called the event an episode … a learning experience. He took no credit for his valor, but he was pretty impressed he was strong enough to survive the event at his age. He chuckles as he blames his old age for forgetting to send an invoice.

Yes, he’s been a good example to me.I hope you enjoyed this story and think about the many times you sacrificed your comfort for the comfort of your customers.

Tough as Nails

It was a hot summer’s day in 2007. Dad was 79 and climbed on a roof to inspect a unit. He took a tumble, hit the ground, and cracked 10 of his ribs. The doctor was amazed he was still alive.

We were all surprised when he went to a Church meeting the next evening and showed up at the office a day later. By the way, yes he did get the job; but got grounded by the family. We took the ladder racks off his truck.

Soon he was all healed up and returned to work with his feet on the ground. And that’s where he kept them. How grounded are you as you execute your job day to day?

A Teacher

Dad loved to offer training to all the guys at the shop on Friday mornings. You can imagine how much he has to share with 50 years in the industry.

His focus always revolved around a recent event and he would direct the education to the technician who needed it the most.. He was always careful not to single anyone out, but to use their mistake to help others. He understood everyone makes mistakes, but felt it was his role to take responsibility for what his employees didn’t understand and then help them correct the problem.

His teaching style was light and jovial and usually filled with some great stories from the past as well as the present. "Good training is always practical" he taught me one day years ago.

I remember a service call he took me on when I was in my early teens He was pleased with the way I could anticipate his needs and have the right tool ready when he needed it. We were driving toward home in his huge, noisy service van. At one point, he slowed down, got real serious, and explained the birds and bees to me until we turned onto our street.

I guess he is an amazing teacher. He explained the entire subject to me in less than five minutes! Fortunately, this was only the first of many valuable conversations on the subject.

He took the time to teach when the student was prepared to learn. Do you pass on what you have learned to those around you? Are there opportunities to teach something you might be missing due to the daily grind?

You can probably imagine I could share stories about my Dad all day, especially this week. I chose these three experiences that may inspire you to make more of yourself and serve well. Perhaps someone will write about the legacy you have left them when you’re gone.

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute an HVAC based training company and membership organization. You can contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at for free information, articles and downloads.

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