CO Evangelist Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson is the general manager of TM Johnson Brothers, a #HVAC contracting firm in Cambridge, MN.

Becoming an evangelist can be a long and often difficult road when dealing with “the Silent Killer,” known as Carbon Monoxide (CO).

In my opinion, every technician who works on fuel-burning appliances (furnaces, boilers, water heaters, gas dryers, gas stoves, etc.) should have extensive training in combustion and carbon monoxide. This training must include:

  • Causes and effects of CO poisoning
  • Proper diagnostic procedures
  • Proper repair procedures
  • How to prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

Fortunately, this is exactly what NCI’s Combustion and CO training course covers.

The Journey Begins

I was first introduced to this information in March of 2008. Dan Squires of Vincent’s Heating and Plumbing, Port Huron, MI, told me about Jim Davis, a trainer from National Comfort Institute, Inc. Squires shared with me what he learned in Davis’ class. The next class Jim was doing was in Louisville, KY. I have a brother who lives there, so I loaded my two top technicians into my 1994 custom Dodge van — nicknamed the “Love Shack” — and drove 12 hours to Louisville. After the first day in his class, we were convinced this Jim Davis was crazy.

Why? Between us, my technicians and I had almost 50 years of HVAC industry experience and this guy was telling us many of the things we knew were wrong. We went back to my brother’s house and started playing with his furnace. Wow! Everything Jim said was true. It all worked exactly as he said it would. By the time we made it to day three of the course, our heads were spinning with all this new information.

Growth from Struggle

"To be a CO evangelist, you have to test every gas-fired system you encounter." -- Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson says his team tests every gas-fired appliance they come in contact with. Here he demonstrates testing the CO output of this water heater.

By jerks and starts we started implementing this information into our daily practices. One by one, we started tuning our customers’ equipment as we now knew was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, we had yet to learn how to correctly charge for our knowledge.

But first things first. I had all my field staff certified through the NCI training (yes, plumbers, too). Each time I sent an employee, I attended with them. I find they seem to score much better if the boss is in class. So, in the past nine years I attended the class 13 times. The interesting thing is, I learned more each time.

Now, nine years later, measuring and testing is part of our company culture. Every piece of fuel-burning equipment we touch gets tested. We have installed hundreds of barometric draft dampers. We have had reports from customers of 30% fuel savings, based on our doing a proper tune-up. As word spread of our CO successes, we found ourselves the local CO evangelist.

I have been invited to speak at building inspectors training classes. I do a weekly radio show and promote CO safety, nearly every week. Some of our competitors refer people to us to deal with the ‘problem jobs they can’t solve. Even some utility people refer customers to us. Furthermore, recently our local newspaper invited me to write an article on CO safety.

Staying the Course

Success does not happen overnight. First, it required a change in beliefs for me as the owner and general manager. Second, it was a mind shift for my employees. Once they go their heads wrapped around it, they brought it to our customers. Our customers now refer us to their friends and the momentum grows.

The most important take away from this is that if you don’t start, you will never get there. You must be diligent and persistent. Always base your opinions on measurable facts, not on hearsay from others. Then learn how to charge for your services to make a profit. Most importantly, you must believe in doing what is right, safe, and true for your employees and your customers.

Our employees know we help protect hundreds, if not thousands of people in our community. We do this by knowing about CO issues. TM Johnsone Brothers is among the few who can fix those issues before they become serious. Our people use that knowledge every day. For me, there is no better feeling than that. I know my customers are warm and comfortable in their homes. But I also know our company is positively affecting their safety and health. Thank you, Jim Davis, and thank you NCI!

You can learn more about this topic at a breakout session that Jim and I are doing at the NCI Summit in Austin, Texas, March 2-4, 2018. Make plans to be there! We are going to have a blast! I’m sure Jim will have a new joke or two to share as well!