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Stationary Engineer and Boiler Operator Job Description, Career as a Stationary Engineer and Boiler Operator, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training High school plus training

Salary Median—$44,150 per year

Employment Outlook Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

Stationary engineers and boiler operators operate and maintain the equipment used to generate power, heat, air conditioning, and refrigeration in factories and other commercial buildings. The term "stationary" refers to the type of equipment that these engineers operate—that is, equipment that is permanently set up and is not mobile. Engineers work in the heart of a building's or factory's energy supply: the boiler room, engine room, or power plant. Here, they operate diesel engines, boilers, turbines, pumps, generators, and compressors. This equipment is controlled by switchboards, valves, throttles, levers, and computers. Meters, gauges, and other measuring instruments require constant monitoring. Stationary engineers and boiler operators ensure the equipment operates safely by performing routine maintenance, shutting equipment down, making repairs, and regulating machinery as necessary. Engineers keep records of boiler pressure, temperature, power output, and fuel consumption. They must keep in mind the amount of heat, power, or cooling that their equipment is supposed to deliver. They are expected to control costs by using only enough fuel and other supplies to meet the demand.

Stationary engineers and boiler operators are responsible for air and hydronic systems that heat and cool buildings, ventilation systems, refrigeration systems, and other mechanical systems. They work in a variety of places, including factories, apartment buildings, hotels, schools, hospitals, office buildings, mines, electric power plants, and sewage and water treatment plants. Some work for government agencies. They are employed in all parts of the country, but are concentrated in busy industrial areas.

Many engine rooms and power plants operate twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week. In small buildings or plants, there may be only one stationary engineer or boiler operator employed, or one for each work shift. In larger

A stationary engineer uses computers to monitor building machinery and temperatures at a factory. (© Patrice Latron/Corbis.)

plants, there may be a different set of engineers for each shift. One of these may be a watch engineer in charge of all the engine room employees on one shift. Some stationary engineers, known as chief engineers, supervise the entire staff of a boiler room, including assistant stationary engineers, turbine operators, boiler tenders, and air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration mechanics who work on each shift.

Stationary engineers and boiler operators must operate their equipment according to state and local laws, which are designed to protect the public safety. Chief engineers are often expected to keep up with new developments or devices to treat harmful discharges. They must also be up to date on new kinds of equipment or processes that can save money or make operations more reliable or efficient. They advise management on the purchase of such equipment. Sometimes they arrange the purchase and have their own crews install the equipment.

Education and Training Requirements

Most stationary engineers and boiler operators have completed a formal, four-year apprenticeship program consisting of six hundred hours of classroom instruction in areas such as boiler design and operation, physics, pneumatics, refrigeration, and air conditioning, as well as eight thousand hours of on-the-job training. Some workers learn to be stationary engineers through many years of informal on-the-job training as boiler tenders or as assistant stationary engineers, supplemented by correspondence courses or part-time study at technical schools. Employers and apprenticeship programs usually require a high school or trade school diploma. Useful preparatory courses include math, physics, mechanical drawing, and machine shop. Once on the job, stationary engineers and boiler operators often must receive additional training as new equipment and regulations are introduced.

Most cities and states require stationary engineers and boiler operators to be licensed. Requirements for licenses usually include several years of experience and a passing grade on a written test. Different classes of licenses state the size and kind of equipment that the engineer can operate without supervision. Those who hold first-class licenses are permitted to operate equipment of all sizes and types.

Getting the Job

School placement offices sometimes have information on openings in apprentice programs for stationary engineers and boiler operators. Local offices of the International Union of Operating Engineers also have information about becoming an apprentice. City or state licensing agencies may also have listings of training opportunities. To acquire skills on the job working as a boiler tender or helper, applicants can apply directly to one of the many companies and institutions that operate engine rooms or power plants. State employment offices often have listings of the available jobs in this field. Newspaper want ads and Internet job sites are other good sources for learning of job openings. Civil service offices have information on government jobs.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Stationary engineers and boiler operators advance as they receive higher-class licenses and are put in charge of larger and more complex equipment. They get more responsibility and higher salaries as they move up, and they often supervise other workers. Stationary engineers can be put in charge of one shift, or they can advance to the position of chief engineer, who is in charge of the entire staff of a boiler room, engine room, or power plant. Some move into jobs as instructors or examining engineers. However, advancement can be slow, and sometimes stationary engineers and boiler operators must wait for a vacancy to occur even after they have the appropriate license enabling them to assume greater responsibility.

The number of positions for stationary engineers is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2014, even though industrial development is anticipated to increase the amount of equipment to be operated and maintained. However, automated systems are making new equipment more efficient, thus reducing the number of stationary engineers and boiler tenders needed to operate them. Most openings are expected to replace workers who leave the field, but the relatively high wages of the occupation mean few experienced workers leave the field before retirement.

Working Conditions

Stationary engineers and boiler operators usually work forty hours per week and have steady, year-round employment. Since many plants operate around the clock, engineers may work on one of three eight-hour shifts, or they may work rotating shifts. They are often assigned weekend and holiday work.

Modern engine rooms, boiler rooms, and power plants are usually clean, well lit, and well ventilated. However, even in the most modern plants, stationary engineers and boiler operators are subjected to heat, noise, dirt, grease, fumes, and smoke. Hot pipes and boilers can cause burns, and electrical equipment can be hazardous. Stationary engineers and boiler operators must observe strict safety rules to prevent accidents. Some of the work requires physical strength. Engineers spend long hours on their feet and may have to work in close quarters or awkward positions while servicing boilers and other equipment. Many stationary engineers and boiler operators belong to the International Union of Operating Engineers, the main union in the field.

Where to Go for More Information

International Union of Operating Engineers
1125 Seventeenth St., NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 429-9100

National Association of Power Engineers
1 Springfield St.
Chicopee, MA 01013
(413) 592-6273

Earnings and Benefits

The wages of stationary engineers and boiler operators vary depending on their experience and licensing class, the location, and the kind of job. In 2004 they earned a median annual salary of $44,150. Local government positions paid a median annual salary of $48,340. Stationary engineers are paid a premium for overtime and shift work and for working on weekends or holidays. Benefits usually include paid vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

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