Employee Q&A: HVAC Mechanic Brian Ashe, Facilities Management

Employee Q&A: HVAC Mechanic Brian Ashe, Facilities Management

By Amanda BallardUniversity Communications
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Name: Brian Ashe
Position: HVAC Mechanic, Facilities Management
Number of years at the UA: 5
Favorite thing about working at the UA: Being part of the Wildcat family. There's a lot of pride in attaching yourself to something like that. Plus, now I've got my daughter going to school at the College of Nursing, so we're even more of a Wildcat family. My favorite thing is just the camaraderie. In Facilities Management, we try to go out of our way to make everybody comfortable and provide good service.
Interesting hobby: I used to be a professional MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter, but I had to give that up because I'm old now. It was a lot different back then. It's quite a bit more ferocious know. When I was in it, it was more judo and jujitsu type of things. It definitely keeps you in shape, but I've got scars all over the place.

The next time you catch a cool breeze from the air conditioner, say a silent "thank you" to Brian Ashe and the other heating, ventilation and cooling mechanics from Facilities Management. Primarily serving the UA Medical Center, Ashe is responsible for controls and maintenance for refrigeration and air conditioning, which means he spends a lot of time in compact places.

"I have to crawl into a lot of spaces that aren't really very nice," Ashe said.

He credits his four years in the Marine Corps for his ability to deal with tight situations and for laying the foundation for his strong work ethic.

Ashe grew up in Waltham, Mass., with eight sisters and attended a vocational high school for electronics and HVAC. "I was really a hands-on type of guy," he said. "That's what a lot of people are like that get into the trades; they're more kinesthetic type of people and like to do things with their hands."

Four days after graduating from high school, Ashe took off with the Marines, traveling to North Carolina. His time with the Marines took him to the Asian Pacific and Atlantic near Europe. Ashe found he wasn't fond of ship life. Fortunately he was part of a Force Reconnaissance Special Operations Group that had him getting off the ship and on a lot of helicopters.

It was during his service that Ashe first visited and fell in love with the Old Pueblo.

"I got a 72-hour pass when I was down in Yuma one time," he remembers. "We got in the car and drove up to Tucson, and I absolutely fell in love with it. I moved to Arizona later when I found out my daughter was on the way."

For a time, Ashe owned a 20-acre farm in Ajo that he named "Old McDonald's farm," which had horses, pigs, chickens, donkeys and other animals. When the commute to Tucson for work at an industrial technology company became too much and a position at the University became available, he sold the farm.

"I always wanted to work at the UA. I worked here through Johnson Controls and other companies," he said. "When an opportunity at the UA popped open, I popped in."

Nowadays, you can find Ashe downtown every second Saturday of the month playing bagpipes with the Tucson Pipers, a pastime he picked up to reconnect with his family heritage.

"I have one grandfather from Ireland and the other is from Canada, and both have lineage to bagpiping," he said. "One in particular is Thomas Ashe, probably the only winning captain in the Easter Rising. He founded a bagpipe band in Ireland that's pretty famous called the Black Ravens in 1910."

When he isn't working or making music from the Scottish Highlands, he is a season ticket holder and avid fan of Wildcat hockey. This year, Ashe also says he's a proud Wildcat dad to his daughter, who is a first-year nursing student.

Ashe recently took time to speak with LQP about his career.

What was your first job?

My very first job was when I was 8 years old and I picked berries at a farm called Bluebird Acres. I kind of lived in a country setting. My mom told me if I wanted to have Nikes, I had to get them. I wanted to be the cool kid with Nikes; otherwise I would get whatever cheap ones she would pick out for me.

Describe what you do.

About three years ago, I moved into the HVAC department. I basically do whatever needs to be done. That entails mainly refrigeration and air-conditioning. The bulk of what I do now is controls: all the controls for the air handlers, and the variable air volume boxes like what you don't really see, but are above the ceiling. They are controlled by these pneumatic and digital thermostats, depending on what type they are. I just help maintain all of the conditioning equipment. Stuff does break a lot. We've gone through quite a phase of change in the past five-10 years, never mind the last 20 years with the whole campus. Especially in the hospital, where we've got everything from old-style pneumatics, which is air-operated type equipment, to the most modern digital controlled equipment that we look at and control with laptops. All you really need anymore is a little bit of Wi-Fi and you're in.

If you didn't have this job, what career would you have?

To be honest, I would probably be a nurse. Six of my eight sisters are nurses, so that plays a good hand in it. I've always been into anatomy and different things like that. That's one of the things that encouraged me to get my daughter on that track. She went to vocational school as well and did nursing, so she's bringing it to fruition now. It's just the aspect of helping people and being a part of healing. I think overall as a profession, I think that's one of the most underestimated jobs there is, that and maybe elementary school teaching.

Who have been your best mentors and why?

The first one that comes to my mind is my dad. Very strong-willed person, very hard work ethic. He did everything that he could to rear us kids and get us to where we were supposed to be.

What career advice would you offer to someone just starting out?

Two things especially, the first being balance. Always try to keep a balance between God, family and work. That's one of the most important things. The second point plays along with that: Be patient. That's really for any vocation. Just be patient and try not to be too assertive or aggressive in your learning. If you try to be too attentive to too many things, you end up being ineffective. It's like spreading yourself too thin. Be patient and really hone in on the basics. If you perfect the basics, all of the specialty stuff will come.

How would you like to spend your retirement?

I would like to focus on my religion and fishing. Hopefully by fishing I'll be able to see a lot of different places that I haven't seen yet. There's also so much of Arizona I haven't seen. I've been to just about every corner, but there's so much in between that I want to see. I love camping too. I like to hike quite a bit. Other than that, I will certainly be riding horses somewhere with my daughter I'm sure. We've been doing that her whole life.

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