Where the Air Gets Thin

Working in the Rocky Mountains opens the doors for a contractor who built a startup plumbing operation into a diverse and profitable enterprise
Where the Air Gets Thin

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As the son of a plumber who had worked for his father as a youngster, Bob Rasnick decided in 1993 to open Freedom Sewer and Drain in Oak Creek, Colo. With his wife, Melinda Gorman, as a partner, he started with a small cable machine, offering basic residential services.

Within a year, after attending the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International, the couple saw other opportunities, specifically waterjetting and video inspection. Over the years, they also added waterblasting, pipe thawing, and line locating, and changed the name of the company to Freedom Enterprises Inc. In 2002, they moved to a 26-acre site in Bond, Colo., high in the Rocky Mountains near Steamboat Springs.

Now, instead of taking care of faulty toilets, Rasnick and Gorman have municipal, commercial and industrial customers throughout Colorado and neighboring states, and crews travel up to 400 miles to apply their special expertise.

Rasnick is proud to have a growing business that can use sophisticated technology to solve problems and help protect the environment.

Working at altitude

Waterjetting accounts for about 45 percent of the business and waterblasting another 10 percent. The balance consists of video inspection, locating and other services.

Customers are heavily municipal (40 percent) and mining (55 percent). Working in the mines means working underground and under pressure to perform. A pipe blockage may shut down a mine’s production, and customers want service restored on the double.

Working under those conditions, and often in sub-zero temperatures, is the company’s forte. Often the secret is to find the right nozzle and the right flow and pressure for unique jobs. Sometimes it’s a matter of adjusting on the fly, trying new approaches, and relying on suppliers who offer solutions and options.

To accommodate their work environment, Rasnick and Gorman customize equipment and add specialized components. Rasnick says the company’s own technicians “can build just about anything.” He just asks them for a list of items they need and lets them take it from there.

With its highly developed fleet, Freedom often rides to the rescue of clients at 10,000 feet elevation and higher, arriving with hot waterjetting equipment and the right nozzles and hoses. The company takes jobs from which competitors have been known to turn tail and run. Customers are quick to spread the word about the results they get.

Getting it right

Rasnick manages the field operations while Gorman oversees the office. From the start, they learned a valuable lesson about equipment. “It was a major lesson when we purchased a used combination truck for what to us was a lot of money, around $40,000,” Rasnick says. “It turned out to be just a lot of headaches, and we realized it’s a mistake to try to save money on your fleet.”

One purchase that did work out well was a 4,000 psi/14 gpm trailer jetter from US Jetting. Rasnick says Freedom has made millions of dollars in revenue from that one machine. Even that unit received considerable customization.

Rasnick bought a 14-foot International box truck, insulated it, and rebuilt the jetter within the truck so the water would stay warm, and driving the jetter off the truck engine. The water in the jetter would heat up to 120 degrees in the truck and still be at 90 degrees when a crew needed hot water in winter to open a hole to get to a line, or to thaw frozen pipe. “We really got good at it, and it really took off from there,” Rasnick says.

When the truck wore out in 2006, they bought a 14-foot Sterling Acterra box truck and installed the original jetter inside, this time using a hydrostatic powered pump, which has worked well.

A more recent purchase is a re-manufactured 2001 Vactor combination machine on a Sterling chassis with 2,000 psi/100 gpm water system and Dresser Roots positive displacement blower, which performs at the higher elevations where the air gets thin. The truck has a 12-cubic-yard debris tank and is used to vacuum wet and dry material.

Varied fleet

Freedom also has a 1995 Vac-Con truck on a Sterling chassis with a three-stage fan, 12-cubic-yard debris tank (wet only) and 2,000 psi/65 gpm pump.

Another key tool is a 4,000 psi/14 gpm truck-mounted jetter from US Jetting that can clean lines up to 14 inches with heavy mineral buildup and thaw frozen lines. The unit carries 1,200 feet of 1/2-inch hose and a 600-gallon tank for heated water.

On the inspection side, the fleet includes two video vans from RS Technical Services Inc. with an assortment of cameras. A tractor-mounted camera from RS Technical operates in 6- to 24-inch lines. There is also a steerable tractor camera from RS Technical and push cameras from RIDGID and Pearpoint.

Rasnick credits nozzle supplier StoneAge Inc. for help in solving customers’ problems. “I realize how smart these guys are,” he says. “We have always loved their nozzles. We tell them what we need to do, and they tell us what nozzle we need and what size inserts to put in. They have helped us become experts.”

For waterblasting, Freedom has a system from Jetstream of Houston (40,000 psi/6 to 58 gpm) and gets high-pressure hoses from SPIR STAR. He and his crews have learned to use that equipment to clean pipes with carefully selected nozzles.

Tackling challenges

Here again, suppliers help out. “While most waterblasting people use the equipment for jobs like washing walls and floors, we go into industrial pipe and have to go long distances with high pressure,” Rasnick says. “We did an acid line, and we had to call SPIR STAR. We ended up with a 500-foot section of stainless steel-braided hose – braided on the outside. Before that we couldn’t get through that line. We totally amazed the customer, and saved the company thousands of dollars.

“I am amazed at how smart our suppliers are, and how helpful and how willing they are to share their expertise and professionalism. It’s so important to learn to work and learn from your suppliers.”

When working in underground mines, crews often clean long lines to keep the mine functioning. Here, they deploy a US Jetting skid-mounted jetter (4,000 psi/18 gpm) with a 350-gallon water tank. The unit came with a steel platform, but Freedom’s welders added a steel protective cage.

Typically, Freedom works on a contract basis with customers, offering maintenance and emergency services. For jobs that require travel, two technicians make the trip. For any confined-space entry there are three workers on site.

Rasnick and Gorman have complete confidence in their crew. When Rasnick recently missed several months of work with health issues, everyone pulled together and kept the firm on sound footing.

First line of defense

Putting safety first and foremost, Gorman and Rasnick make sure each employee is fully protected with all appropriate gear, and aware of safety requirements for working with high-pressure equipment.

“There is one thing we would fire someone over,” says Gorman, who is president of Freedom Enterprises. “That is if they see a safety concern, and they do not come to us.” The safety record is outstanding.

“Bob does a toolbox safety meeting before they do any confined-space work,” Gorman says. “He does all the training on the equipment and holds monthly safety meetings. We have the team members take refresher safety courses offered at some of the mines and power plants. Bob is in charge of safety in the field.”

Before she and Rasnick started the business, Gorman was, in her words, primarily a housewife who didn’t even worry about balancing a checkbook. “When we first started, I would make up invoices using paper and a ruler,” she says. “At first we didn’t have a computer, but then I went to a QuickBooks program, and now I take responsibility for the office and work closely with my sister Joanne Crabb, who is one of our employees.”

Gorman also acts as a check on Rasnick, who has an entrepreneurial side and is always coming up with innovations on equipment. Gorman asks: Is this expenditure really necessary, and a good idea? Why do we really need that item?

“There have also been times when I had to go out in the field on a job,” she says. “My advice to any woman in the industry is to go out on a project. Pull the levers. Be the other man. It does give you an idea of what’s going on and helps explain a lot when the workers come back and talk about things. You will understand it all more.”



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