Alan Jones, Business Manager
Wolfson Children's Hospital
When Russell Harper, Business Manager of IBEW Local 177 arrives at Miller Electric, he meets with Senior Vice-President of Operations David Long, who is eager to spotlight the contributions made by his firm to Jacksonville's energy infrastructure and industry. Long, himself a graduate of the IBEW/NECA apprenticeship program, cut his teeth directing Miller's disaster recovery operations after Hurricane Andrew ripped through Florida in 1992. He now oversees Miller's Jacksonville operations, specializing in labor-management collaboration. He has risen to his position by adhering to the same principles that have guided Miller's growth and accomplishments since its founding in 1928.
Hospitals, banks, stadiums, the AT&T and Wells Fargo buildings, point to nearly any structure along the iconic St. John's River and Jacksonville skyline, and Miller's team of IBEW-trained and qualified electricians have wired, indeed, helped to build it. Large-scale electrical builds and designs such as the new Miami Marlins and Jacksonville Jaguars' Stadiums have further raised the profile of the firm, which has partnered with the IBEW since its inception.Upon meeting with us, Long immediately offers assistance. He knows the Miller name carries weight and what his firm is capable of. There's confidence, cockiness even, that comes with working for Miller, and why not? Having been instrumental in the construction and renovation of nearly the entire Jacksonville and Southeastern skyline and infrastructure, Long and the Miller team aren't afraid to talk it up. To paraphrase Dizzy Dean, It ain't bragging if you can wire it. Miller consistently praises its electricians and their workmanship, through interviews and in their publications.
“It's our teams and our teamwork that make us go,” says Long “ they make everything happen in the field.”
What kind of projects are we looking for? Solar? Wind? Industrial? It quickly becomes clear that whatever type of project we name, short of colonizing the moon (heck, they'll probably do that one day too), Long will pick up the phone and say “we got one. Next?”
As with all successful businesses, consistently producing high-quality work leads to referrals and repeat visits.
These are just some of the ingredients that have turned Miller into the “electrical powerhouse” of the South. Acknowledging the firm's reputation, Long says simply, “our customers know our strengths.”
And the customers come in all industries, brought to Miller by the firm's reputation, and their need to safely reduce operating and electrical maintenance costs. Recent projects feature solar farms, disaster recovery, and modular power plants, all completed successfully, “on time and under budget.”
Miller's confidence in, and commitment to, the work of its teams, lands us an exclusive: a guided site visit at Jacksonville Baptist Medical Center, where the brand new, prestigious Wolfson Children's Hospital expansion races toward completion.
Building Hospital and Healthcare Infrastructure
The attitude the morning we hit the site is decidedly upbeat, workers are glad to be here - the joint is jumping!! The gibes and jokes fly, it's all good-natured, and almost keeps pace with the job.
Our tour begins on the roof of the 12 story structure, where Miller's electricians carefully install transformers and modular power stations, core infrastructure that will power the new building's operations. Redundant systems are being configured here, engineered to protect caregivers and patients in the event of a hurricane or potential black-out, seamlessly and immediately switching on alternate power during an outage.
Supervisor Mike Donnelly informs us that Miller's work proceeds in carefully sequenced stages; each floor represents its own phase in the construction process. The electrical systems implemented must ensure the uninterrupted delivery of critical care for which Wolfson is renowned. Electricians move constantly past us, between floors, they co-coordinate their movements, performing multiple, interrelated tasks, all vital to the functioning of the new center.
The project moves in increasing orders of completion as we descend, ultimately making our way to the 2nd floor operating room, nearly finished.
Critical treatment and vital medical resources such as current, oxygen, and other highly combustible gases must be delivered to patients in exactly the right mix. Micro-measured portions of each will ebb and flow automatically, with literally no room for error. Fortunately, Miller's designated healthcare team has the experience required to perform work to such specifications, while forecasting and handling any challenges that may arise.
The electricians' commitment and investment in the Wolfson project extends well beyond “just doing my job.” Their applied expertise and knowledge of system requirements extend to the “end-user” - the medical staff and patients who will ultimately benefit. As we tour the future operating room, one Miller worker indicates how hanging cameras and special lighting will enable Wolfson's team of doctors and medical students to share and analyze their surgical success stories.
Flexibility Is Key, Safety An Absolute
According to Long and Harper, safety is a primary concern for Jacksonville customers seeking to work with Miller Electric and other IBEW-affiliated firms. This concern extends from a building's or project's owners to Florida's general contractors and construction managers who wish to protect workers, mitigate their overall “construction risk” and reduce their liability costs.
Harper says it is a concern that both employers like Miller and the IBEW recognize and address "from the get-go."
Electricians are frequently the first to arrive and last to leave any job, he points out, indicating the large crane and related construction infrastructure that must be installed prior to work commencing.
As these apparatuses and industrial-grade heavy construction tools form the working foundation of the project moving forward, they must be installed safely and correctly. Cranes, elevators, and other core infrastructure are all electronically-powered and must safely transport workers and heavy equipment to each floor of the site.
Miller Electric's own training curriculum reinforces IBEW-NECA safety courses and is designed to protect both its workers and ultimately the customer, on job sites that involve handling high voltage wires. According to Long, Miller electricians in Jacksonville currently obtain critical certifications in NFPA 70E, Fall Protection, and Critical Power Systems, among others. Safety and professional certifications in fast-growing technologies like wind turbine and solar panel installation are also available to the firm's employees.
Electricians of many backgrounds shared values
Each Miller electrician brings a unique skillset and background to the job. For a project of this complexity to be delivered successfully, both company and IBEW must unify a large team, all with rich and diverse backgrounds, to work in tandem.
Every worker has a different story to tell, how they got there, and why, and yet common threads emerge. Father was in the IBEW, brother worked for Miller, a step-father had mentioned the training. Multiple generations work on this project, from different cultures, yet the values and work ethic are shared. In spite of its size, Miller somehow feels like a family operation. Many of the electricians are life-time residents of Jacksonville, some have performed military service, and they span all ages. It is remarkable that everyone, even when out of earshot of immediate supervisors, credits their employer and their fellow team members.
Serge is from the Yugoslav Republic; he was in the army there. He migrated to the US ten years ago.Dan is a fifth-year apprentice, who has been wiring "since I was 17." Mike is a few years shy of retirement and he finds it cold up there on the 12th floor (imagine that, a cold Florida morning). They are patient with our questions and even more patient (and focused) as they complete the tasks before them. Each found the IBEW and Miller Electric in their own way. And like David Long, they are equally confident in the work they do.
Does the Miller/IBEW work ethic come from training or is it instilled by generations of family? Likely a bit of both. Both organizations consistently reinforce the same message: even on a large project like Wolfson, workmanship is never compromised and safety must always come first.
Regardless of background, they are united by their belief that each job needs to be performed correctly every time, with no excuses. Excuses, like mistakes, quickly become expensive. A connection runs through the men and women on this site, just like the wires in the walls, that carry a current - one of pride that comes from knowing you're “doing it right.”
The rigors of IBEW-NECA training and its benefit for an electrical contractor like Miller is apparent, with apprentices like Drew Little on the job. Little is a fifth-year apprentice who augments his education by working on the Wolfson expansion. The training program mandates that he attend class three nights weekly, with “no misses,” submitting all homework and assignments, while still demonstrating superior value to his employer on the job site.
While apprentices like Little learn the latest electrical techniques and proper safety procedures in class, they are seeing and reacting to those situations each day in the field, creating what Harper views as “an ideal learning situation.”
Providing access to highly qualified electrical apprentices like Little, who “earn while they learn,” is an essential benefit to IBEW-affiliated firms, says Harper. Indeed, many such apprentices ultimately establish their own firms after gaining the critical education and skills that come from working a complex project like the Wolfson expansion.
Additionally, many electricians at Miller have worked for and received training on US Military bases, especially Jacksonville's Air and Naval base, and are currently leveraging those skills. Veterans of all stripes are on this project. Supervisors such as Mike Donnelly carry nearly 26 years of experience, having worked on the USS Enterprise at St. John's River Flows, beginning in 1981. Both Miller and the IBEW devote substantial time and resources to training and ensuring veterans find rewarding work and use their skills.
According to Business Manager Harper, the training allows the electricians to improve their skills and safely graduate to tasks of increasing complexity, core to the IBEW mission.
The current hyper-competitive business environment, says Harper, demands that IBEW-affiliated firms perform such work consistently, on deadline, in order to establish strong local trust and create ongoing referrals. The referrals, in turn, generate more project work and create more opportunity for electricians and firms through-out the region.
“The customer wants value and these days that typically means lower costs.” Harper goes on, “what we feel is, by using firms like Miller, they get a superior workforce, and this heads off all the potential problems that slow things down, create mishaps, or affect the safety of the [building's] occupants.”
Harper continues the logic: “when everyone works together, it's a win for workers, a win for the hospital, and a win for the community.”
The sentiment is echoed by Senior Data Tech Daniel Fouraker, a member of IBEW Local 177 for the past 6 years, who this day is working on the 6th and 11th floors at Wolfson, installing ubiquitous teledata lines, which will convey mission-critical patient information directly to the bed-side and caregivers.
As Fouraker sees it,“ there's a real difference [with an affiliated firm such as Miller] in the final product and the way the job gets done.” Fouraker attributes it to both the IBEW and Miller's desire to put “a lot of time and effort into the training of the individual.”
The other advantage to working together with a team you're familiar with, and have confidence in, according to Fouraker: “ you just enjoy it more.”
Successful Projects: All About the Planning - and Process
Completing the job itself is “all about the planning,” says Supervisor Donnelly. Here arises a curious paradox: in order to perform complex electrical work, particularly in the case of a hospital and healthcare facility, time and attention to detail are needed. The challenge: how to budget such time within tight deadlines, where each milestone depends upon the last – and the next?
Critical to Miller's successful delivery of the Wolfson Expansion, is it's project management. Miller project managers must translate the client's or building owner's vision into a secure electrical installation that performs safely under all contingencies.
As such, every member of Miller's team must understand how the end-user or customer will use and benefit from the newly created facility. To this end, ongoing training and skills development is essential. Continuing Education for Journeymen Electricians are provided by both the IBEW and Miller.
At Miller, project managers and electricians must both remain on the cutting edge of the latest building practices such as LEED, Green Energy, Building Information Modeling (BIM), while still being required to complete standard OSHA 10 and 30 hour and regular CPR/Life Support training.
On the Wolfson Children's Hospital expansion, the company employs BIM to ensure that all electrical work is carried out to spec. In the field, the model meets the real world, and vision is implemented. It is beholden to the IBEW-trained electricians to execute this vision according to the specifications designed by Miller's project managers.
Additionally, at Wolfson, Miller employs several innovative repetitive construction techniques that it has used successfully nation-wide, including modular pre-fabrication and construction, which permit significant economies of scale that translate to time and cost-savings to building owners and clients.
The benefits of Miller's approach include quicker time to the operation or "go live" of the building, reduced building “footprint”, and greater ease incorporating specific design customizations for each customer.
Miller electric's pre-fabrication process has been deployed effectively throughout the region, including schools, hospitals, technology centers, and federal and municipal buildings, to name a few. (The company's work on the new Oak Leaf High School in Clay County Florida (is featured here)
Leading Jacksonville in Electrical and Energy Management
As electrical and energy management systems increasingly “ go green,” and become more complex, particularly in a hospital and technical healthcare environment, the need for the highly-skilled electricians required able to create and maintain such systems will only grow. And as healthcare services are increasingly provided to an aging US population, both healthcare and its ancillary technological needs and infrastructure will continue to expand.
Businesses in Jacksonville and through-out Florida now frequently seek advice and estimates for energy retrofits and new "green building" projects. The more trained and qualified a firm's electricians are, the more likely they will gain access to this type of work.
It is foreman Ed Scholl, 54, who perhaps resolves the curious paradox about working for Miller Electric: by investing in the skilled electricians provided by the IBEW, and by mastering the most advanced technologies and latest techniques, Miller's electricians are ultimately afforded "more time to focus and complete the hands-on work,” leading to an overall reduction in errors - and improving building performance and safety.
With both the IBEW and Miller Electric teaming to ensure critical energy systems performance at hospitals and facilities through-out Jacksonville and the Southeast, there can be no doubt that both organizations, their relationship is overseen by dedicated professionals like Long and Harper, are in it for the long haul.
Jacksonville businesses seeking to obtain energy savings and achieve the benefits of green building, photo-voltaic, and industrial/commercial electrical work are encouraged to contact the Jacksonville electricians directly.
Jacksonville area electricians or prospective apprentices looking to build their skills and assist with projects like the Wolfson Children's Hospital expansion should contact the IBEW Local 177 apprenticeship.