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Wireman for the county

So much in Sheboygan County depends upon one man who drives a big, well-equipped van.The man's name is Mike Ziereis (Zee-rice) and the van is stocked with electronic instruments and tools that help him diagnose, fix, and farm-out electrical-system repairs. Mike is the sole electrician for all the facilities of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. He's in charge of maintaining electrical power to 74 county

So much in Sheboygan County depends upon one man who drives a big, well-equipped van.The man's name is Mike Ziereis (Zee-rice) and the van is stocked with electronic instruments and tools that help him diagnose, fix, and farm-out electrical-system repairs. Mike is the sole electrician for all the facilities of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. He's in charge of maintaining electrical power to 74 county buildings that have 55 main electrical services, 25 of which have emergency generators and automatic transfer switches. Mostly, Mike's a troubleshooter. A journeyman electrician with a construction background, Ziereis developed an expertise with power-quality work because he saw the demand. "I still do the basic everyday wiring, too. I do a one-man job, same as many contractors. And it's not a problem to keep this one-man shop busy!" "It's a unique position," he said. "I'm basically an electrical-products customer, maintenance engineer, purchasing agent, and electrician rolled into one." Mike's quick to tell you that what he does is "not electrical engineering, but common stuff, practical application." To ensure all the county's facilities have a steady and reliable supply of electrical power, Mike drives more than 10,000 miles a year over the green, rolling hills of Sheboygan County, located between Milwaukee and Green Bay on Lake Michigan. Consumer magazines recognize the county seat, the city of Sheboygan (pop. 51,000), as one of the best areas in which to live and to raise a family. Mike covers a lot of ground, but he can't fix everything electrical that fails. If a problem pops up that he doesn't have time to repair, he'll call for help. Occasionally, he turns to Specht Electric, Sheboygan's largest electrical contractor, a 150-man union shop run by Gene and Garry Specht. When Mike's on vacation, Sheboygan's facility managers will call Specht. Three Specht electricians-Greg Van Helden, Tom Konz, and Ed Zinthefer-work with Mike and the facility managers. Because of Sheboygan's relationship with Specht, Ziereis can get time-and-material rates by using Superior Electric Supply, a local electrical distributor. "I always try to get the best deal and buy the best quality for the county," he says. "I believe in quality products." In a nutshell, Mike diagnoses the problems, gets the materials needed for the repair from Superior Electric Supply, or other local supply houses, and then either fixes the problem himself or calls a contractor to finish the job. "If Mike gets in a jam, he gives us a call and we take care of it right away," Gene Specht said. "We treat every call like an emergency because.generally, well, every call is an emergency. Our office is on-call 7/24. We work that way with all our clients." If Gene's not there, then either Mike or one of the facility managers call down the line to Gene's son, then to his brother Gary Specht, and "then it goes down the line to a dozen people and we know how to dispatch people to the job." So far there hasn't been anything the Spechts couldn't handle. A quiver of high-tech tools The key to keeping Sheboygan facilities up and running is Mike's diagnostic skills. He relies on an arsenal of tools and instruments. "I bought the largest van I could-a standard one-ton Chevy extended van-and I keep it pretty well stocked with a least one of every tool and part I typically might need," Ziereis said. He's installed power monitors throughout the county to help him diagnose problems. In fact, power monitors have become his most important diagnostic instruments because they allow him to keep track of so many buildings. "It never fails," said Mike. "Someone will call and say 'Hey, the computers went down at that the jail facility' or: 'How come power failed at the nursing facility.' And I'll say 'Well, let me take a look-Oh, here's the problem.'" Ziereis bought his first power monitora few years ago when he was trying to solve a problem involving discrepancies between time clocks at a nursing facility and the data showing up at the county administration building. Suspecting a power-quality problem, Mike recalled seeing a Reliable Power Meters (RPM) product at a trade show. He decided to buy one. "Two nursing homes and four other county sites are networked back to my shop PC for continues monitoring and power evaluation. I can also dial in from any remote site if needed." For inventory Mike uses Microsoft Excel software and keeps a large MS Word Database. "You have to keep good records. And with the Scenario software I've got, I can incorporate everything. It's just the most wonderful software there is for organizing electricians. Without these computerized electronics, I'd be doing three times the legwork; I'd be logging 30,000 a year inside of 10,000." For monitoring power quality, Mike carries eight Reliable Power Recorders (for portable use) and employs Reliable Multipoint Recorders (which are permanently installed in electrical equipment to allow remote monitoring) in his inventory. With these power analyzers, he keeps an eye on power distribution to a number of facilities. "I believe in using the right tools for the job," he said "Fluke multimeters; Fluke and Square D software on laptop; the Internet; and Northern Computers Win-Pak key-card access for opening and closing doors." Of course, Mike also carries a complete set of traditional tools, including Klein Tools, Snap-On, and Craftsman hand tools; Makita power tools and Hilti concrete drills. "I've learned to get away from the concept of 'permanent' installs, which most contractors still tend to believe in. More than anyone, I know how fast requirements can change in government; and how pressing the need for upgrades has become." Finally, Mike stocks his van with a couple of pairs of medium- and high-voltage gloves, a hardhat, safety glasses and sunglasses. "I try to wear cotton clothing instead of polyester. They'll both burn, but polyester will melt right into your skin. I don't do a whole lot of high-voltage work. I don't keep high-voltage safety equipment in the van because HV equipment-such as hot sticks- needs to be kept clean and dry, and it can't be kept clean rolling around the van." The buildings of Sheboygan County Sunny Ridge Nursing Facility-Sheboygan County's biggest facility, Sunny Ridge is a 342-bed nursing home with a 3,000A main switchgear. The largest user of power of any county facility, Sunny Ridge requires a large complement of equipment to keep some of its patients on life support. "It is absolutely critical that the backup generator is ready to come online when storm damage or the occasional stray squirrel causes an outage," Ziereis said. One night Sunny Ridge's 1,200A emergency generator transfer switch blew up, and Ziereis needed to have Zenith Controls custom-make a replacement switch to fit the existing enclosure, greatly reducing downtime and the total cost to repair. "It was a 12-hour night for three guys." "But we got her back up and running-hopefully so it was convenient for the residents. They're our biggest priority." Ziereis has done quite a bit of electrical upgrading to Sunny Ridge to improve the energy efficiency such as new electronic dimmers, high-efficiency motors, DDC HVAC system, and high-efficiency kitchen equipment. This facility also has a RPM permanent power monitor linked back to his shop via the air LAN system. Adult Detention Center-Sheboygan County's second largest facility is a 300-bed jail. The county jail is another new facility, and is entirely controlled by electronic equipment. Mike installed a permanent recorder at this location to monitor the 2,500A 480V main service when he started getting calls about problems with the computers. He had to pinpoint the problems to software, hardware, or power. As Mike explains, "We've had some of each, but I can always identify what it is. That's very important because the whole facility could go down, not just the computers. You don't want to have an electronically controlled jail with no power!" The Power Recorder is also used to certify the jail's emergency standby generator. An annual power analysis will determine if the GenSet is operating within tolerances set by the manufacturer. The County Administration Building-When this new facility opened in December 1998, a Multipoint recorder was installed to keep track of power quality for a number of important departments, including finance, treasury, county clerk, register of deeds, and planning. Most of the power problems involve harmonics, a common problem in office buildings. A tower site where the Sheriff's Department radio repeaters are located-Mike Ziereis uses a monitor to monitor incoming power quality for this critical electronic load site. County Historical Museum-Mike also uses a Power Recorder to monitor the power supply at the Museum, repository of many of the county's historical treasures. Recent additions have added 20,000 square feet to the museum complex. Outside is the 19th-century Weinhold Family Homestead, which includes the last remaining log cabins in the area. Sheboygan County Marsh Park-Most of this 13,000-acre park is wilderness. However, a 30-acre developed area is complete with campsites, picnic areas, a party/meeting facility, lodge and restaurant, and boat rental and launching facilities. Until Mike used power-monitoring equipment at the site, the county had no way of knowing what to charge campers and picnickers for power-usage fees. As a result, the county now can set reasonable fees that cover their costs. The county highway department's blacktop plant-Severe Wisconsin winters contribute to the wear and tear on county highways, so the blacktop plant is a busy place come spring and summer. Mike monitors power to make sure there is a steady, reliable supply to keep the facility running. If the plant goes down, 150 people wait for me to fix the problem so they can get back to laying blacktop," Ziereis said. Rocky Knoll Health Care Facility-This facility is 15 miles outside of the city of Sheboygan, but a power monitor permanently located there allows Mike keep track of the situation from his office in the County Law Enforcement Center. The facility also presents another condition of a seasonal nature that needs watching. Across the road from the senior facility is a world-acclaimed racetrack called Road America, which stages several major Indy-car and motorcycle racing events each summer. With the resulting dramatic increase in the power load and a corresponding decrease in the power coming into Rocky Knoll, the power utility has to change transformer taps. University of Wisconsin (UW) Sheboygan County campus-Mike has a Power Recorder installed at the main power drop on the campus, the power house/boiler room. He'd like to avoid another problem such as the one they had a few years ago, when a power outage during the Christmas break caused the heat pumps to freeze up. When power was restored, the damaged heat pumps thawed out and flooded the campus library, causing about $100,000 in damage. After that event, Mike installed phase failure relays that trip the main breakers to avoid problems in the future. Mike will soon install a new RPM InSight recorder in the 1,200A, 480V switchgear outside the powerhouse to monitor HVAC on the campus. Of the 13 University of Wisconsin campuses, Sheboygan County will be the only one monitored in this fashion. Using the Internet, Mike can plug into the UW network from any PC. He can also dial in from his home or from his shop in the Law Enforcement Center in downtown Sheboygan. The Sheboygan Airport The local airport, which is also run by the county, is just one more place that Mike has to keep an eye on. He uses a Power Recorder to monitor currents throughout the facility. County Courthouse-"All of my remote power metering is brought back to my shop in the basement of this building via LAN, WAN, AIR-LAN, Internet, or phone lines. Seasons of consistency Year round, keeping a county running is a tall order for one man-even if he's a well-armed, well-equipped technician. Spring is the busiest season and May often the cruelest month. The blacktop plant runs full force, the county park opens, and Sheboygan County maintenance crews start scrambling to fix and clean up things that they put off during long cold winter. "We run our tail-feathers off in the spring, Mike said. "Thunderstorms knock out fuses, transformers, and substations. I find fewer problems in the wintertime. But I actually spend more time outside during the winter because of snowstorms. Most of the time, though, the utility's pretty decent about keeping power running after a snowstorm." Is there a slower season? Does Mike find time to get a away for a.vacation? "I like to go deer hunting in the fall. I was paged hunting last fall, and was able to phone in the repairs, telling a facility manager how to fix a transfer switch that had shorted out. I told him how to get it back into manual mode. When I got back, I gave the transfer switch a permanent fix." The word that best sums up Mike's contribution to Sheboygan County is consistency. Mike makes sure every facility in the county runs compatibly with standard electrical equipment. Maybe that's the main advantage of having one man make all the decisions about all electrical problems to solve, products to buy, vendors to use, and contractors to hire. Of course, it helps, too, that Mike's a sharp troubleshooter. "Mike does a fine job for the county," Specht Electric's Gene Specht said. He's very adept at reading meters and diagnosing problems.

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