Around the country, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been rapidly assessing and building alternate care facilities to alleviate strain on local hospitals. Per CNN, as of April 9, there are 432,579 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., with 14,830 deaths. While most of these facilities are being designed to handle non-COVID-19 patients, McCormick Place convention center in Chicago will be set up to treat up to 3,000 low to moderate coronavirus patients, thereby freeing up hospital beds for more severe cases.

According to Walsh Construction, the firm leading the temporary conversion, patients will be separated in the convention center halls by level of care required. Construction for the first 500 beds was completed April 3, while the rest of the field hospital is expected to be finished by April 24.


Last week as construction continued on McCormick Place, Brian Friedman, owner of Friedman & Dorrans Sales, a manufacturer’s rep firm in Wheeling, Illinois, received an urgent call from his outside salesman, Billy Ford, about sourcing 17 Bradford White 120 gal, 54 kW, 208 volt water heaters to supply hot water to the facility.

Friedman & Dorrans offers technical and installation support, employing a few former mechanical contractors who are familiar with the products they represent. O’Sullivan Plumbing had reached out to Ferguson Enterprises for help, who in turn, reached out to Ford.

“When they set up Section C, which was the first 500 beds, we had come up with a solution for their hot water issues by supplying the heaters and the storage tank for the staff showers and another heater for the AVA showers,” Ford says. “Then the contractor turned to me and said, ‘You realize that we have to duplicate this four times.’ And I said, ‘Well, no, nobody made me aware of that.’ And that's when I said, ‘Give me a second, let me get on the phone.’ That's when the calls started and we began sourcing the product.”

Friedman started making calls immediately.

“The factory unfortunately couldn’t supply the heaters in the timeframe that was required, so I tapped our network and had the good fortune of finding sufficient inventory at one of Bradford White’s consigned inventory warehouses in Atlanta. I coordinated with their operations guy, and the heaters were delivered within 17 hours of ordering.

“We have a long history and a lot of experience with Bradford White along with a vast local and national distribution network, that, in essence, is how we were able to tap to make this happen,” he continues. “It was definitely a logistical challenge, but it ended up working out.”
In addition to the water heaters themselves, Friedman also required conversion kits, which were flown next day air from Bradford White’s Middleville, Michigan manufacturing facility.

“That center had not been tapped for a project this size in quite some time,” Ford says. “So to watch representatives from every single trade standing in a circle with a FEMA representative and construction managers coordinating efforts — then it was like, ‘Ready! Break! Let’s all go get our jobs done!’ Then we would reconnect again in about five hours and reassess. It really was an impressive thing to be part of.

“There were constant coordination efforts with FEMA, Walsh Construction and O’Sullivan Plumbing and IBEW — that’s something that gets lost in our industry,” he continues. “In a lot of cases, folks are in there and have blinders on, just working on their particular part of the project. To FEMA’s and Walsh’s credit, that was not allowed to happen here. Every time they'd get a section done, we'd have to go in and commission the product. Per FEMA, they wanted to make sure that when those things were turned on, they worked. So, we were down there coordinating with IBEW and everybody else, pulling power in, making sure everything was coordinated and done. It didn't go off without some challenges, but it did go off. And at this point the 3000-bed hospital has hot water that they were looking for.”

“I’m so proud our team was able to step up to find ways to help with this human crisis,” Friedman adds. “Despite the ups and downs of the world we're living in right now, plumbing as an industry is truly essential. It’s not just words, it's fact. And, I think we're all very blessed to be in an industry that is a priority in people's lives when the call is there. That’s one of the reasons I entered the industry to begin with and I'm sure why most people are in it, because we are protecting the health of the nation. And I think at the end of the day, that's what it's all about.”

“We didn’t know what to expect, when we got the call to help on the COVID-19 Care Center project at McCormick Place,” says Jim Kuenn, director of commercial — Central Midwest, Ferguson Enterprises. “We got involved midday on March 31, and needed to turn around a huge amount of product in just a few days. We reviewed the mechanical schedule and specifications provided to us. It was a daunting task that most of our associates had not seen before. We said yes because we wanted to not only help our customer, but also the community during this time of need.

“The Ferguson team in Chicago stepped up to the challenge, rolled up their sleeves and worked 24/7 to make it happen,” he adds. “We are ramping up to finish the final phases by this weekend, Mechanical Inc. and O’Sullivan is ahead of schedule and will meet the deadlines because everyone — from contractors like Mechanical Inc./O’Sullivan to various vendors – found a way to say ‘yes.’ I get prideful chills from what was accomplished.”

To date, Bradford White has supplied water heaters for several major field hospitals, including Javits Convention Center in New York City and McCormick Place, according to Mark Taylor, executive vice president and general manager at Bradford White.

“We are extremely proud of the work being done by our reps like the team at Friedman & Dorrans Sales, as well as our wholesaler and contractor customers who are making sure that medical facilities have the hot water they need to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Taylor. “Hot water is critical for cleaning, sanitizing and hygienic purposes, and it’s important for us to do our part to support the health care workers on the front lines. 

“In Michigan, where our water heaters are produced, we reached out to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and offered to provide products for any temporary field hospitals in the State of Michigan that need water heaters to help address the pandemic. Michigan is one of the states hit particularly hard by COVID-19.”

Todd Young, vice president of commercial, Ferguson Enterprises, notes the crisis has undoubtedly changed the way everyone lives and works.

“We’ve implemented new processes in order to help our customers and communities during this time,” he adds. “To support local hospitals and pop-up facilities across the country, we’ve organized a new response and product procurement system to handle the many inquiries coming in — because it’s the right thing to do. From delivering jobsite trailers and emergency water heaters to providing products for field hospitals at facilities like CenturyLink Field and Sleep Train Arena, we’re working with a variety of essential businesses in different industries to help our communities push forward… and we’re happy to do it.”