September 19, 2019

Roofing… Roofing department installs and repairs roofs of many types

Donald Smith, assistant to the president for roofing at Bangor Roofing & Sheet Metal, joined the company 36 years ago after serving as a Marine for three years, including duty during the Korean War with the 1st Marine Division.

As with other longtime Bangor Roofing employees, Smith started as a sheet-metal apprentice and worked his way into a slot as a sheet-metal journeyman. He became a foreman, then managed the roofing department until 1986, when he moved into his current job.

According to Smith, the company installs or repairs several types of roofs, including slate roofs, metal roofs, built-up roofs (commonly called “tar and gravel”), PVC roofs, and single-ply (rubber) roofs. Because it specializes in industrial and commercial roofing, the company does few shingled roofs.

At one time, built-up roofs proved popular with Maine businesspeople. Times change, however, and more architects and builders specify single-ply roofs.

Smith said that at Bangor Roofing, the EPDM (ethylene-propylene-diene-monomer) single-ply roofing made by the Firestone Building Products Co. “has become the most common of any roofing material that we install.” Available in different thicknesses and membranes, this material lays down as a single sheet, designed to withstand weather conditions for many years.

Smith has noticed a trend toward more metal roofs. “People are looking for greater longevity for their investment and less maintenance for their roofs,” he explained. “Metal roofs aren’t in great demand, but we’re installing more of them. We put two small metal roofs over the elevator shafts on the parking garage in downtown Bangor.”

According to Smith, 32 people work year-round in the roofing department. Cold weather affects operations, particularly when crews are heating asphalt to seal built-up roofs.

John Achorn, superintendent for the roofing department, recently retired as a federal employee working at the Bangor Air National Guard Base. Still a chief master sergeant in the Air National Guard, he joined Bangor Roofing & Sheet Metal Jan. 2, 1990.

Achorn supervises five roofing and three flashing crews, the people who go up ladders and onto roofs. “When I first came here,” he recalled, “I was afraid to climb. I wasn’t nervous; I was scared!

“We use 40-foot ladders, and I wasn’t used to climbing them,” he said. “Now I can do it with no problems.”

Achorn arrives at work about 5:30 a.m. and assigns jobs to his crews. The jobs might take a day or require a week; whatever the time needed, Achorn also ensures that materials are delivered to each job site on time.

Bangor Roofing uses a small fleet (a road tractor, 15 box trailers, five flatbed trailers, four dump trucks, and 22 pickups) to deliver materials to job sites scattered from Waldoboro to Fort Kent. Achorn said that the dump trucks were also used to haul debris from work sites. The company has a crane for lifting materials onto roofs.

“And then I travel to look over the jobs and make sure everything’s getting done right,” Achorn said. One early June day, he drove to Waldoboro, then to Millinocket, and back to Bangor, where he and Donald Smith inspected two roofs that the company had installed. The next day took him to Van Buren and back. He often takes roofing materials with him.

According to Achorn, one roofing crew works exclusively in northern Maine, living in the region and traveling from Calais to Fort Kent. The other four crews work from Bangor.

“I depend on the foremen quite a bit,” Achorn said. “They’re the heart of our roofing department, since they’re right there on the job and make the decisions as they arise.”

He stresses safety training for his crews, who wear safety equipment appropriate for a particular job.

“It is a very dangerous job,” Achorn stated. “We’re at heights that would frighten most people, climbing up and down ladders or staging or across roofs in all sorts of weather.

“In roofing, you have to worry about safety all the time,” he said.

Alan Hahnel, the vice president for engineering for both Bangor Roofing & Sheet Metal and Hahnel Bros., graduated from Lewiston High School. He knew by his sophomore year what he wanted to do for a career.

“Being exposed to construction gave me an interest in engineering,” he said. He can remember climbing ladders with his father (Oscar Hahnel Jr.) at a young age, his father following close behind as he struggled up the rungs.

After high school, Alan Hahnel attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. The courses were not easy, nor were they intended to be. “Fluids was the most horrendous course I ever took,” he recalled. “Soil mechanics was the most interesting.”

Hahnel worked as an engineer in Boston for a while, then moved to Colorado. He earned his professional engineer’s license while working as a structural engineer in the Denver area.

The need for engineers dwindled in Colorado, so Hahnel returned to Maine in 1980 to fill an engineering vacancy with Hahnel Bros. He designed sheet-metal systems for that company; by the mid-1980s, he started reviewing plans drawn up at Bangor Roofing & Sheet Metal.

Hahnel praised Hal Knowles for his ability to create intricate HVAC and exhaust systems on paper. “He knows what he’s doing; he’s very good at it,” Hahnel said. “As far as Bangor Roofing goes, I just review their plans and place my (engineer’s) stamp on it.”

Named the vice president for engineering in 1988, Hahnel works from his Lewiston office. He also manages Hahnel Bros.’ sheet-metal department, which employs about 50 people.

“Most of our designs are for air-conveying systems,” Hahnel said. “Many of them go into small plants run by novelty wood manufacturers, who collect the dust that you get from sawing wood.”

Hahnel and his wife, Donna, live in New Gloucester with their 2-year-old daughter, Augusta. Donna Hahnel works as a critical-care nurse.

Michel Mathieu, the estimator for the roofing department, graduated from Lewiston High School and worked a year at Hahnel Bros. before coming to the University of Maine to study mechanical engineering technology. He started working part time for Bangor Roofing & Sheet Metal in 1985 and went full time after obtaining an associate’s degree. Mathieu is now studying at night to earn a bachelor’s degree in business management.

Besides working as the draftsman for Hahnel Bros. and Bangor Roofing, Mathieu established and now manages the latter company’s safety program on workplace chemicals. He conducts roof surveys and works with other roofing department employees to find the best solution for a customer’s roofing problems.

Mathieu lives in Hermon.

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