Getting to Know John “JT” Tolin, Mitigation Operations Manager
In our new “Getting to Know ..” blog series, we’ll meet some of the energetic and knowledgeable employees behind SERVPRO of Northwest Charlotte - the ones who help make any size disaster “Like it never even happened.” For Mitigation Operations Manager John “JT” Tolin, working at SERVPRO is a family affair. He oversees project managers, file coordinators and six full-time mitigation crews, including his son, Jakob, a crew chief. JT recently celebrated his fifth anniversary with the company and talked to us about his path to SERVPRO of Northwest Charlotte and some notable commercial cleaning and restoration projects.
Q: How did you get into the field of catastrophic loss restoration?
A: I had been out of the Marine Corps for a few years and was in between jobs. I saw an ad for a service master looking for a crew chief for a cleaning crew. I thought, “If there's one thing Marines know how to do, it's clean!” I answered the ad, and it just snowballed from there. I’m now coming up on 30 years in this business.
Q: You’ve managed projects all over the country - from 9/11 to natural disasters to oil spills. Which one had the most significant personal impact?
A: The previous company I was with managed five separate properties and handled five different losses in New York during 9/11. That one hit home for me because I grew up in New Jersey and traveled in the area. I’d look across the river and see the towers all the time. The scope of the devastation and everything else made that a very emotional job to do.
From a logistics standpoint, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were the most challenging projects I've worked on - trying to feed, get supplies to, and find housing for 100 people. When we first started working in that area, we had a 2-hour commute each way to-and-from the job sites. We’d work a 10-hour day and then have to drive back to wherever our lodging was.
Q: When and how did you join the SERVPRO of Northwest Charlotte team?
A: Just over five years, ago I was with another restoration company, working on the road and traveling extensively. A friend of mine knew (SERVPRO owners) Danny and Penny called me and said, “I know someone who’s looking to fill an operation manager’s position. Are you interested?” I said, “Sure, let’s talk.” It was that easy.
Q: Tell us about your role as mitigation operations manager.
A: Our project managers are on the job with the crews every day, while also reaching out to adjusters and serving as a go-between with customers. I communicate with the managers and crews every day about the status of every job. I read all the notes in our system to make sure we’re communicating with the customer and documenting everything properly. Near the end of a project, I connect with the customer and ask, “Did everything go OK? Do you have any questions? Are there any issues I can help you with?" Hopefully, the project has gone smoothly, but I'm here to help resolve it if there's a problem.
Q: At times, you’re juggling 20 different projects at once. How do you keep track of everything?
A: SERVPRO has a proprietary work center software system called DryBook, which was developed in conjunction with insurance companies. It allows us to capture and monitor all the steps of a restoration project according to industry best practices and standards. Everything is documented and most rates are pre-negotiated with the insurance companies - what materials need drying or removal, what equipment is placed at a job, and the dry standard for specific materials. It also generates reports and billing details for customers, which makes it easier for them and us.
Q: When it comes to catastrophic loss restoration, why do certification and continuing education matter?
A: It helps to make sure we're meeting all of the insurance company and industry standards, which are continually changing, along with EPA guidelines and OSHA standards. We know what the dry standard is, we know what is clean is, we know the correct way to remove mold. And we also have the latest technology, treatments and equipment for moisture detection and measurement, water extraction, drying, sanitizing and odor removal.
Q: What else do you think gives SERVPRO of Northwest Charlotte a competitive edge?
A: Excellent leadership from Danny and Penny and well-trained employees with positive attitudes. We’re to have a team of quality people who treat our customers with empathy and respect, focusing on excellent service, mutual respect and fairness. Most of our technicians and crew chiefs have been here two-plus years, so we’re not continually training new people and don't have a lot of turnovers. We also try and keep the same crew on the job from start to finish. That helps with consistency and communication and gives the customer a comfort level. Most of our new people are here because we’re continuously growing as a company.
We’ve also developed valuable relationships with insurance adjusters and commercial property management groups in the area. They’ll call us and say, “I've got a problem customer. Can you go fix it?" Or, "I've got a big fire, and I need it taken care of properly." They know we're going to do the job properly and take care of the customer, which makes them look good.
Q: What’s the most frustrating aspect of your job?
A: Managing people's expectations can be the most challenging part at times. It's sometimes difficult to get people to understand we’re not an emergency service, like a fire department, where we are waiting for calls. Some customers expect us to be at their home or business in 15 minutes but we may be in the middle of working on another job. We need to close out what we’re doing and unload and reload the truck with everything we need before we can get to them. While they wait, we encourage customers to review our emergency tips on fire damage, water damage, biohazard and sewage damage and mold damage
Q: Share a story about a local project that required complicated coordination and logistics.
A: A couple of years ago, there was an accidental fire in the Johnson & Wales University gym. It was an interesting job because there were 30-foot ceilings and we needed lifts to clean them. We were working with all our contractors who were doing demolition in the gymnasium while others were cleaning. But we had to keep everything separate, so there wasn’t any cross-contamination. It took about three weeks to get them cleaned up to reopen their facility and let students back in.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
A: I like the chaos of my job. I like it when we're busy and I have to coordinate the guys and move the chess pieces around the board. I like the challenge of having six teams and 20 jobs to do - making sure they all get taken care of, and they all get done well.
Q: Finish this sentence: “If I didn’t work at SERVPRO of Northwest Charlotte, I’d love to spend my days … ”
A: Riding my motorcycle with my wife and brewing beer.