While shelters exist in Dallas County, key service workers like plumbers, HVAC technicians, and electricians continue to enter residents’ homes – and they rely on customers to keep them safe.
“Plumbers historically protect the health of the nation,” said Keresa Richardson, co-owner of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing in Dallas Our Job. “
Richardson and her husband, JR, run the Lawton Group, a company that includes Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, Buckaroo Pest Protection, Lawton Mechanical Services, and other mechanical services companies.
“Our boys are used to dealing with very unhealthy environments and they have a series of vaccinations that plumbers must go through to protect themselves,” said Richardson.
Benjamin Franklin’s nearly 150 employees continue to work, she said. The company is asking customers who contact customer service to let them know if anyone in the home is feeling sick or showing symptoms related to COVID-19.
“We want to make sure we don’t put our employees at risk if someone is quarantined,” said Richardson.
Baker Brothers CEO Jimmy Dale said his company also relies on customers to notify his company when they’re sick so they can avoid the potential spread of coronavirus.
Still, there is some risk.
“The fact that [workers] can spread it to other places and other people … that’s the part that really scares them and scares us, ”Dale said.
Dale said Baker Brothers did not encounter a scenario where they might have to deny service to a customer, but that those decisions were made by management to keep workers and customers safe. When a customer reports that someone in the household is sick when they call to request services, the company first tries to reschedule the job based on the requirement.
Dale has also given employees permission to refuse door service if they believe customers are unaware of a possible household illness or are uncomfortable with a job for any reason.
According to Dale, Baker Brothers’ 273 employees work remotely wherever possible. Technicians making house calls go straight from home to service calls and call for weekly team meetings.
The company has instructed employees to follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when entering their homes. They maintain a distance of two meters between themselves and customers and also wear protective equipment, including face shields and gloves. And they disinfect devices between each job.
According to President Jamie Wooldridge, Berkeys Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Electrical employees at Berkeys Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Electrical keep a distance from customer doors and conduct hands-free payment transactions for jobs.
“We can actually send the customer an invoice that they can then pay,” said Wooldridge. “And if that’s not feasible, we’ll have them read the credit card number to us instead of shuffling it back and forth.”
Wooldridge said if a customer notifies the company that they are quarantined or have symptoms related to coronavirus, they will ask them to reschedule services for a later date.
The shelter layout, which affects more than 2 million Dallas Counties, also puts an abnormal, but expected, strain on home plumbing systems, Richardson said.
Several plumbing company executives who spoke to The Dallas Morning News said service requests for clogged plumbing have increased, likely due to the added stress of residents flushing products other than toilet paper.
“Often times we don’t realize we have five people in the house, but you only have two people at a time,” said Dale. “Five people who are there manage to do it all day.”
“We’ve had a big surge in drain calls,” said Dale. Baker Brothers saw twice as many service calls for clogged plumbing on Monday than an average Monday, he said.
Benjamin Franklin’s plumbers have even started leaving a roll of free toilet paper in the homes they care for.
“With a shortage of toilet paper, they flush baby wipes, paper towels, Kleenex and anything else they can use when they run out of toilet paper,” said Richardson. “That clogs the system because they shouldn’t disintegrate like toilet paper.”