It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a …

The plumber is the superhero of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a …
Randy Lorge

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Crazy, isn’t it? How in the world could a plumber be compared to a superhero? Well, I’m glad you asked.

First of all, let’s define “superhero.” Merriam-Webster defines a superhero as “an exceptionally skillful or successful person.” Nailed it! Now, let me explain.

Superheroes are known for defending the innocent from evil, doom and death. The plumber has been defending the health of the nation for centuries, and what’s even more astounding is that they go about it every day, in broad daylight, in plain sight of the public, unnoticed. It’s almost like being the invisible man when you think about it.

You can trace the marvelous feats of the plumber all the way back to the time of the Romans in 735 B.C. It was during this time that sewers were first installed to convey wastewater away from buildings. What’s ironic about where plumbing has been traced to have begun is that it can also be traced to where it came to its end. When the Roman Empire was eventually conquered between A.D. 406-19, its plumbing systems were all but destroyed with it. Eventually, due to the poor sanitation conditions, the bubonic plague broke out and wiped out roughly 25 million people in Europe alone.

As civilization evolved from this point forward, the need for safe plumbing systems followed. Plumbing codes were written, apprenticeships evolved, licenses were issued, and safe systems were designed and installed.

Just like the life of a superhero, evil always finds a way to rise up and challenge the forces of good. Plumbing has faced many deadly challenges. In 1933 at the Chicago World’s Fair, amebic dysentery occurred from a cross connection between the potable water supply and sanitary drain system. It’s believed that 75 to 100 deaths resulted from this incident. While evil took its toll on mankind during this time, the plumber prevailed by applying his talents to correct the problem.

Between 2002 and 2003, “inadequate” plumbing was determined to have been a contributor to the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. Hundreds of lives were lost, and yet again, it was the plumber who came to the rescue and made the plumbing systems safe.

In 2014, all I need to mention is Flint, Michigan. Poor judgment, to say the least, created one of the largest modern-day plumbing disasters in U.S. history. And again, it was the men and women of the plumbing trade who suited up and worked to correct a wrong.

As the superhero’s work is never done, neither is a plumber’s. I can only imagine the work that will need to be done by our skilled plumbers in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

What I find fascinating about all this is that while it seems so simple and straightforward here in the U.S. that without safe plumbing systems installed by skilled plumbers we would surely fall back to the times of disease and death, there are still parts of this world without safe plumbing systems, such as India.

In 2015, under the leadership of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials and the International Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Foundation, the Community Plumbing Challenge was formed. I had the unique opportunity of traveling to India where teams of young plumbers and engineers from around the globe made improvements to a school’s plumbing system. With strong support from various organizations such as the World Plumbing Council, not only did we make plumbing improvements, but we also left behind our know-how, skills, and blueprints in hope that work will be continued.

Then in 2016, I was blessed again to travel with the Community Plumbing Challenge to South Africa. There, we worked on improving plumbing conditions for an overpopulated shantytown. While the project only lasted a week, the improvements we made will count toward saving many lives. This past November, I was also in Indonesia for the Community Plumbing Challenge, doing a project for a school in a small village.

My life has been forever changed by those three trips. I’m proud to be a third-generation plumber of 25 years and an instructor of plumbing apprenticeship in northeastern Wisconsin for 18 years. My love and respect for the plumbing trade, and the men and women of it, has grown deeper due to these experiences. They have driven me to work even harder toward creating tomorrow’s “superhero” in my plumbing apprenticeship classrooms and continuing my work of assisting each and every “superhero” I know by providing continuing education to them and doing whatever I can to support the plumbing trade.

So, is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a plumber, and he’s on his way to protect the health of the nation!


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