SAWS field crews cool off with portable HVAC units

Utility says monthly rentals of units is money well spent

SAN ANTONIO – Though they work with water all day, San Antonio Water System field crews don’t have the coolest of conditions.

They dig stifling trenches at job sites that are often in direct sunlight and near sweltering asphalt.

But this summer, some SAWS crews have the benefit of a new tool to help keep cool.

The utility has rented four mobile HVAC systems to set up at job sites where the work is expected to last several hours. Powered by diesel generators, the HVAC units blow cold air through hoses and into shaded break areas and the windless trenches where crews work on the water mains.

“That brings down the temperatures a lot. From triple-degree weather down to - it feels like 80s, 70s, ” said Feliciano Flores Jr., a superintendent at SAWS’ East Side service center.

The utility tried out one of the portable HVAC units in 2022 during a repair project at one of its treatment plans, said Carlos Mendoza, vice president of distribution and collection. As temperatures rose in June, the utility decided to bring the units out into the field, he said.

The units were put into use on June 28. Each of the four systems costs $6,000 per month to rent, and Mendoza said the utility is exploring keeping them into August.

There are about 40 SAWS crews in the field during the day shift, working on 80 to 100 jobs. So, the most time-intensive ones have priority for getting the HVAC systems.

“They’ve already paid for themselves. I mean, we had four heat-related incidents last year - recordable incidents. We’ve had zero this year, so far,” Mendoza said.

SAWS is also evaluating whether it has enough of the units, which Mendoza said they could easily expand - possibly even double.

“But we’re - again, we just pilot these things. We’ve had ‘em for a few weeks now, and we’re still actually looking at that as it pertains to our work order counts and the type of work orders,” Mendoza said.

It would likely be a popular choice with field crews. Flores said there’s been good feedback.

“It seems like they like it. I mean, I know I wish I had this back in my days,” he said with a laugh, “but it is what it is now.”

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About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.