A boiler operator runs, maintains, and repairs boilers and other systems that are used to heat or cool large buildings. He or she is responsible for ensuring that systems are kept in proper working order in hospitals, schools, commercial buildings, industrial factories, and other settings. Professionals usually work in comfortable rooms, managing systems remotely with the aid of computers. Repair jobs and maintenance checks, however, may require boiler operators to work under very hot, noisy, dangerous conditions.
A boiler is a type of stationary metal vessel that uses gas, coal, wood, or electricity to heat water and create pressurized steam. The steam can be used to provide heat for a large facility, such as a hospital. A boiler operator is in charge of monitoring the efficiency and safety of boilers and maintaining all of the component parts. An expert routinely checks systems, performs preventative maintenance such as lubricating parts, and troubleshoots malfunctioning boilers.
When a problem is discovered, a boiler operator usually shuts down the system to make repairs. He or she is often required to work quickly to restore heat to a building. Boiler rooms can be very dangerous, noisy, and dirty, and most operators wear protective clothing and earplugs. Safety is a major concern, as fuels and hot water under pressure can be quite volatile. Repair jobs may require a quick replacement of a small part, such as a gasket or ball bearing, or a large overhaul of an entire electrical system or combustion chamber.
To become a boiler operator, a person is usually required to hold a high school diploma, though many companies exclusively hire workers who have passed formal training programs at vocational schools. A new boiler operator typically works as an apprentice for about four years, gaining experience and learning about different tools and techniques from established professionals. Upon the completion of an apprenticeship, a new worker can take a licensing exam administered by his or her country or state. Licensing exams test an individual's understanding of basic operating procedures and safety measures.
As technology in heating and cooling systems advances, the nature of a boiler operator's job is changing. Many new workers spend much more time away from the actual machines, monitoring computers that provide immediate diagnostic information. Boiler operators frequently choose to become licensed to work on other types of modern systems, such as electrical power generators, centralized air units, and refrigeration systems. There is generally a steady demand for workers with specialized knowledge of complex heating and cooling systems in most industrial settings, government buildings, and hospitals.