Every year, thousands of participants donate labor, time, materials and expertise to help those in need.

No characteristic is more defining of the United States than its generosity. As just one example, has history ever seen more gracious treatment of vanquished enemies than the Marshall Plan?

Government foreign aid tells just part of the story, though. Nothing gives a better reason to wave the red, white and blue than our private endeavors to help people in need. We've witnessed it in stunning fashion ever since Sept. 11. Without prompting, amid a slumping economy jolted far worse by the horror of that day, organizations and individuals responded with astounding speed and largesse to ease the pain of those who suffered most.

What we've witnessed this fall is simply a concentrated version of charitable activities that are common throughout America. Most take place with little fanfare. Too little. We need to be reminded from time to time that what many people view as a capitalist system drenched in greed routinely performs feats of grand beneficence.

Assuring Comfort, Saving Lives

Best example I can think of in the PHC industry is "Project HEAT'S ON." This is an annual program started in the mid-1980s in which UA journeymen, mechanical contractors, suppliers and other industry citizens collaborate to perform free heating system checkups, and whatever repairs are needed, for deserving needy households. The program is coordinated nationwide by the Mechanical Service Contractors of America, the service subsidiary of MCAA, and administered locally by affiliates in various cities.

Participants pick a Saturday in autumn to arrange service calls on deserving households identified by local social service agencies. Most recipients are low-income senior citizens barely making ends meet.

UA service technicians donate their time without pay, while their employers provide the trucks, materials, equipment and dispatching services, with office employees also working for free. The techs diagnose what needs to be done to keep heating systems functioning through the coming winter, and will perform anything from routine maintenance to a furnace or boiler replacement if necessary.

They also install free smoke and CO detectors where needed. Supply houses and vendors typically donate the materials and equipment.

The program prevents many emergency breakdowns in the dead of winter, and each year safety problems get discovered that might well have led to fatalities if left unattended. Some participants have expanded HEAT'S ON to include a parallel "WATER'S ON" program of plumbing system inspections and repairs.

PM has reported on these programs in the past, but not always with the frequency and emphasis they deserve. Here's a big round of editorial applause to every person who participated in this year's programs. You make me proud to be part of your industry.