SPOKANE, Wash. — Come fall and winter, Dave Rath and his employees may be the unsung heroes of the Inland Northwest.
Rath, who owns Atlas Boiler and Equipment in Spokane, has partly been responsible for repairing and maintaining decades-old boilers stretching from Tri-Cities to Western Montana.
"That's all we do. Commercial boilers," said Rath of his company and employees who often venture into basements of old buildings to complete their work.
A recent cold snap had Atlas employees frantically trying to keep up with several requests from various agencies and companies who needed their heating boilers fixed.
"It's chaos, because everybody has a problem at the same time," said Rath. "I knew that next Monday was going to be crazy."
Not surprisingly, Rath said the cold-business rush is occurring earlier than normal.
Earlier this week, Rath's team fixed a pair of old boilers located below the Kootenai County courthouse in Coeur d'Alene. The boilers stopped working over the weekend, forcing staff in the courthouse and the county administration building to bundle up and turn on space heaters, confirmed Shawn Riley, the county’s project manager.
While Atlas will often repair and maintain newer model boilers, Rath said that most people would be surprised to learn of how often decades-old boilers are still in use.
"They're literally everywhere," he said.
In many cases, historic buildings were built around boilers, said Rath. His team will occasionally make improvements or performance upgrades to older units as opposed to removing them.
"From day to day, it's different. And that's what keeps this interesting," Rath said, adding that each older-model boiler presents a unique challenge.
"There are so many different types of boilers, you can't even track them all," he said.
When asked about Atlas' success, Rath simply replies with, "We're still in business."
Boiler repair jobs have taken his employees as far as Ellensburg, Tri-Cities, and Western Montana.
"We service Montana State, University of Montana," he said.
In many cases, Rath said Atlas will also fix boilers used not for heating purposes, but also steam boilers used in food processing plants.
The job has also made Rath somewhat of an amateur geographer of the various small towns across the Inland Empire.In remarking about a conversation Rath once had with a customer, Rath said a man asked him, "'Is there a town that you haven't been in in this state?'"
To that Rath had a simple answer: "I said, 'No, because every town has a boiler in it.'"