Monday, August 25, 2008

How Many University Employees Does it Take to Fix a Gas Valve?

Sounds like a good joke, but this was no joking matter (If you don't want to story behind this question you can skip to the last paragraph where I put the answer). I recently got assigned an office where I can study, work and meet with students if necessary. The office where I am used to be a lab until it got moved about a week ago. So there are a few lab like things left over, such as a large metal sink and eye wash station...and a gas valve, which happens to be over my desk. While I was working on homework I noticed a smell of gas so I smelled near the valve and yes it was leaking. So I went to the front office to talk to the main secretary (1) to find out who I needed to talk to to fix the problem. She came down and smelled it and we went to the physics department shop where they have the general fix everything guys. She talked to one (2) and he came and smelled it too, and looked at the pipes and said "There's no shutoff valve!". The main guy from the shop (3) came and smelled it too and looked at the pipes and said "There's no shutoff valve in the room!"

Two people (4 and 5) from the office of safety and something or other showed up and turned on their detectors and said "Yup there a leak, maybe you should open a few more windows." (we had already opened several) They called the University maintenance and they sent a guy (6) and he smelled it and looked at the pipes and said "There's no shutoff valve in this room!" A little later his boss (7) showed up and smelled it and looked at the pipes and said "There's no shutoff valve in this room! I wonder where it is." They had to go find the main shutoff for the building and shut it off and then wait for the gas to clear from the pipes. Then they came in and took off the valve and plugged it up after I told them that it would be unlikely that I would need a gas valve over my desk (maybe I should have asked for one). After a while the main maintenance guy (8) showed up with his detector and checked to make sure the plug was not leaking, looked at the pipes and said "There's no shut off valve in this room! There should be." and then they all left.

So the answer to the question is that it takes 8 university employees to fix a gas valve. And apparently there was supposed to be a shutoff valve in the room, but as noted by 7 of the 8 there is not one. It is also fortunate that UNC has a no smoking policy on campus or I may not have been around to tell you this rather long story with a rather uninteresting punch line.


  1. It is a good thing your nose works.
    Dad (James)

  2. Well, I'm glad nobody was smoking either. You need to stick around long enough to witness the earth being sucked up by a black hole created at CERN. :)

  3. I haven't experienced anything quite so death-defying, but I did get a totally serious e-mail asking me to contact the JILA safety office if I "detect any toxic or dangerous vapors" in my office. You see grad students also make low-cost hazard detectors.

  4. "You see grad students also make low-cost hazard detectors." I agree. Sadly, it seems that graduate departments may seem to view grad students as more dispensable than simple gas detectors. Probably not, but it seems like it from time to time.

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  6. ..[G]rad students as more dispensable than simple gas detectors."

    Sadly you make a very good point there, Bill. Since JILA is a joint venture between CU and the US Department of Commerce, we get all of the CU red-tape plus additional federal government red-tape. All of the bureaucracy makes it impossible to get rid of any equipment. My research group has a room full computer equipment dating back as far as the late 80's that we simply can't throw or give away because it's the property of JILA. So while you can get rid of a grad student in 5-6 years, a gas detector will take decades to dispense with.


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