John Jackson, training coordinator at the Nicholas Maldarelli Apprentice Training Center in Jamaica, New York, is excited about the testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) lab coming together at his training center. The plan is to open in January and begin offering apprentices and members at the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation workers (SMART) Local 28 Metropolitan New York and Long Island, and in surrounding areas, the hands-on opportunities to learn, test and earn valuable certifications.
Right now, and in years past, members at Local 28 were able to take the written part of certification exams at their home local but then had to contact the International Certification Board to schedule the hands-on practical part of the test at whichever TAB lab was next offering any given certification’s exam. This sometimes meant waiting for a long period or making travel plans to a TAB lab as far away as California or Arizona. This was a barrier that kept Jackson himself from earning his TAB certification years ago — he graduated the apprenticeship in 2002 and went on to become a certified welding inspector, and has been the training coordinator at Local 28 since February 2023, but he never got those TAB certifications.
“I took the written part of the test when I had two small kids at home. The only test available at that time was in California, and I couldn’t afford to go,” he said. “This is going to mean a huge savings for members in time and money.”
When complete, the lab will be around 1,200 square feet and have two parts: the actual TAB lab, including air flow systems and hydronic systems with hot water/chilled water sides, and a fire life safety room that will feature a stairway pressurization area and fire smoke damper mock-up.
With a 35-question exam required to earn a new Fire and Smoke Damper Technician Stairwell Endorsement, this simulated stairwell will be an important part of the lab. Jackson believes Local 28 is one of the first locals to have this feature. Comprising three doors around an exit staircase, the area is fitted with pressurization fans and can be filled with smoke to demonstrate how proper pressurization acts like an invisible curtain, pushing smoke out of stairwells to allow occupants a safe evacuation path and provide first responders safe entry.
In fact, Chris Ruch, director of education, and Jeremy Zeedyk, field representative, both for the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI), were on site in September to help coordinate a demonstration for the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) and local fire inspectors, using this stairwell feature at Local 28. Firefighters were able to feel how the overpressurized system made it more difficult to open a door and see how functioning dampers and proper pressurization could prevent deaths and injuries from smoke inhalation.
In addition to help from Ruch and Zeedyk, the new TAB lab exists in large part thanks to Weickert Industries Inc. and Accurate Specialty Metal Fabricators, two major contractors in New York. Tom Weickert of Weickert Industries and Al Webb of Accurate have had a hand in shaping how the lab would be constructed, and each has contributed time and materials to make the project happen. Many sheet metal workers at the family-run Weickert Industries are owner-members who went through their apprenticeships at Local 28, so it’s no surprise they went above and beyond. Tom, Stephen, Lisa, John and Chris Weickert not only designed and built the fire smoke damper mockup area, they also came out to the training center to help install it.
With the nearest TAB labs in Pennsylvania or Southern New Jersey, the New York metropolitan area has what Jackson calls “an abundance of TAB techs that just aren’t certified.” As regulations push for more certified workers, some technicians may lose their jobs for lack of certification — and, likewise, contractors could lose bids. So, contractors have a vested interest in seeing more members gain these valuable certifications including Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (TABB) Technician, TABB Supervisor, TABB Commissioning Contractor and Supervisor, ventilation verification, duct air leakage testing and fire and smoke damper technician.
“It’s going to increase the membership and increase the market for testing and balancing,” Jackson said. “This is an area that’s been missing from the apprenticeship program in New York. So, we are attacking an area where we lacked and needed to get more market share.”
TAB is also one of the easier businesses to open up as a member-owner, Jackson pointed out. It does not require a huge amount of heavy equipment or a fleet of specialized vehicles. In the roughly 12 years he has been an instructor, he has trained four people that went on to open up their own businesses, and two of those opened up their own TAB company as well.
The idea for a TAB lab at Local 28 has been in the works since around 2015, Jackson recalled. When planning their current building, instructors started with what would be their “dream school” and then cut things out until it became affordable. Former TAB instructor Paul Engles was one of the original champions of the lab. When he retired, he passed the torch to new TAB instructor Philip Montuori, who has been in the program only since the summer but has been instrumental in creating the stair pressurization feature and other parts of the lab, Jackson said.
“Apprenticeship program here fluctuates between 300 to 600-plus apprentices, so having this lab will help us increase the number of certified technicians and go after that work aggressively,” Jackson said. “Plus, they’ll have home court advantage — they’ll be familiar with the lab where they’re testing. Too often, apprentices who test out of state spend valuable time and energy just getting to know the lab, since they’ve never been in there before.”
Jackson has already made sure apprentices at Local 28 are exposed to basic TAB curriculum during the third year of apprenticeship, and once the new lab is open, they will be able to get relevant certifications even before they graduate the five-year program. Apprentices who show interest at year three can get their Fire and Smoke Damper Technician certification and then efforts can be made to place them with a company where they will learn more about air balancing. Those who have a strong interest and excel at the work can take their TABB Technician written and practical exams during the last semester of apprenticeship.
For more information about fire life safety training and TAB, visit the NEMI website.