Los Angeles, California
Drake Mckinish is a recent addition to the UpKeep family, but his impact on the team is already clear. Drake comes from a background in maintenance, working as a pipefitter for over two years. This work was physically demanding and dangerous, but Drake understood the importance of what he did to maintain the natural gas pipelines, power plants, and refineries that everyone relies on every day to power the world. Pipefitting in industrial locations was high-risk but exciting and Drake loved the work he did because of the thrill factor. He shared one of his favorite stories:
“I was working on with my mentor – I was his apprentice, so I went everywhere with him. We were doing one job for SoCal Gas, which was cool for someone like me who’s so young to be on. There was this huge pipe in the ground just filled with gas and they had to replace a big, 50-yard section of it. They had to cut into the live gas line and weld on it too to put in the new, really heavy piece of pipe – all while it’s operational.
They had a huge internal team that did a lot of it, but contracted a union welder to do some of it. As he’s welding on this pipe, there are these huge bursts of fire coming up because they’re shooting nitrogen into the pipeline so it doesn’t explode. They try to isolate the gas while he’s welding, but sometimes the gas still gets in there and comes into contact with the welding flame. Not to mention that this shift was 24 hours, and this happened probably 14 hours in.”
Drake, thank you for everything you do. You have a distinguished work ethic and impressive grit. We’re so glad to have you on our team.
How did you get started in maintenance?
When I was 17, I was trying to be independent so I joined a union in Gardena. It took six months from the time I applied to when I was actually part of the union, working in the industry. The first job I started doing was HVAC pipefitting.
I’ve worked at a couple of industrial facilities doing maintenance. I was a pipefitter – so, I do fitting and welding on anything from tiny copper pipes, to HVAC pipes, to natural gas pipelines.
I also worked on a couple of jobs at LAX. I worked on projects both redoing one of the terminals, so retrofitting copper pipes, and helped on the new international terminal they’re building. Those shifts were overnight which was really cool. There were times when I was on the runway at 3 am and just couldn’t believe it.
The last job I worked on doing pipe fitting was a new construction power plant. In Huntington Beach, there’s an old power plant, but they’re building a new one. That project’s a little different since it was construction rather than maintenance, but the work was still pretty similar.
I was doing a five-year apprenticeship for pipefitting, so I took classes too while I was working. I would go to the union hall every other Friday for a 10-hour day of class, taking two classes.
The transition to UpKeep
After working and studying for a few years, my fiancé and I were expecting our first baby. At this point, I was working 80+ hours a week still, and it was really hard on both of us. On top of that, the projects usually only last only for 4-6 months and then you’re done. You have to go to the union hall and get put on the out of work list, and then you essentially just wait for another job. When my son was born, I only got five days off of work. It was at that point that I kind of knew I needed to take a step back, for the sake of my family.
It’s been really cool to start working at UpKeep because the work feels so rewarding. Now, I’m part of this really awesome community and work culture that is much more balanced. The lifestyle I was living working as a pipefitter was just getting unsustainable, especially after my son was born. I’m glad I came from working 12 hour days for 7 days in a row on a dangerous oil refinery wearing full coveralls in 120-degree heat. I’m not going to come into this role and feel rejected if someone says no to me on the phone, or if I work over 10 hours one day, or have to make 200 calls. None of it is that big of a deal.
What is one of your proudest achievements?
Honestly, I’d say not injuring myself or anyone else. I’ve seen a lot of situations where someone could have been really hurt or did get hurt. And the older people in the industry, you can see the result of the work over a lifetime. People are missing fingers, or their legs are bowed, or they have scars from getting burnt.
What is one thing you wish people knew about your job?
If you’re thinking about joining the industry, have an extra set of clothes in your car. There are some days where you come out of this job soaking wet, dirty from lying down in a trench all day, or you have fiberglass in your clothes. I ruined my fiancé’s car by going to work every day and not having changing my clothes, so I want to pass that wisdom on.
I also don’t think people realize how high hazard this industry is. There’s a lot of opportunities in different situations for things to go wrong. Especially if you’re working on a live gas line, or moving huge pieces of metal around with a crane. I think people know it’s dangerous work, but the reality of it isn’t really exposed. This industry is gritty, in more ways than I’ve even talked about here.