Don’t leave home without them: Today’s mechanics can learn something from their predecessors about the importance of keeping their tools close at hand, says columnist Jeff Dearduff.

No Pouch, No Tools, No Service

Check out this scenario: Your house is on fire, and you’ve called 911. The fire trucks are blaring their sirens as they come sliding around the corner, pull up to your house and survey the problem. It’s then that everyone realizes they left their hoses on the drying rack back at the firehouse. The firefighters hop back onto the truck and drive to the station to retrieve the hoses, only to be redirected to the next fire and forget about yours.

House lost.

How about this one: Your favorite team is in the World Series, and you’ve sweated it out all year as they struggled to make it through the playoffs. It’s now game seven, bottom of the ninth, two outs, man on second, down by one run. The No. 1 homerun hitter in the league is up. When it’s his time at the plate, he shows up without his bat, steps into the box and takes three pitches down the middle. Game lost.

Finally, you just left a weekly management meeting. You’re walking though the plant with your hands full of notepads and reports when you see some operators struggling with a broken bread bagger. You hear the maintenance call over the PA. Three to four minutes later, your mechanic shows up, and all he has is a dirty shop towel hanging out of his pocket. He surveys the situation and heads back to the shop for something to fix the problem with. No pouch, no tools and, thus, no service. Product lost.

The point is that when there is a job to do, it usually requires some kind of tool to fully accomplish the task in a timely manner.

I was having dinner with my dad a couple weeks ago. He has been in the baking industry and the maintenance end of it for more than 40 years. Dad still works in and around bakeries, rather than spending his retirement holding a fishing pole or golf club every day. He asked me a stirring question that night and one that hit home real hard: “Why don’t bakery mechanics these days carry tools to the maintenance call?” Surely, he is not referring to all bakery maintenance mechanics, but you know as well as I do what I’m talking about here.

Back in the day when my father was a tool-toting bakery mechanic, and even when I got started, your tool pouch was like your favorite pillow. You took it everywhere, and you kept it stocked with the essentials that could get an oven back on line or help you give CPR to a bread bagger. Nobody messed with your tool pouch ... well, not seriously, anyway. There was the occasional “nail the belt to the bench, and then make an emergency call and watch your buddy get hung up” thing. That is always good for a laugh.

Dad even tells me that guys back in the 60’s and 70’s would weigh their pouches to see how much stuff one guy had over the next. There was true pride in being a bakery maintenance mechanic and for your ability to solve a problem and screw things back together faster than the next guy. Is that same level of pride really evident throughout the industry today? Not likely.

It’s time we take a close look at this trend and decide if we want to do something about it. When you observe the daily routine of bakery mechanics in a well-run plant, they can spend most of their time doing very mundane tasks in between sessions of bench-top talk. In the more challenged bakery, they can be on the run quite a bit, solving issue after issue. Either scenario requires that the technician have a wide variety of tools and know how to use them. This is one of the reasons we pay them more than the others in the bakery, right?

You’d think that every mechanic would have a required tool list, and you’d assume that they know to have their tools with them when they go out to answer a call. Maybe it is this assumption that needs attention. Maybe you need to have some rules about their responsibility to carry tools and enforce those rules. If a mechanic comes out to a maintenance call without his tools, maybe he needs to go home for the rest of the day and rethink his dedication to the craft. This is not a difficult problem to solve, but it is one that needs to be solved, and one that only you can solve.

Again, I say, there are those dedicated individuals who still have pride and always carry the pouch with a full complement of weapons, but there seem to be too many mechanics who walk onto the floor empty-handed. The latter are the ones we need to work on. Their responsibilities to the craft need to be reassessed. The ones who do carry tools should be recognized for their professionalism.

We have always talked about “putting out fires” in bakeries, but it’s time we relate to the reality of it all. If you come to a fire without hoses, somebody will get burned.