BROCKTON — There are people we love, and there are people we need. JP Davis is one of the former to his friends and family, but he really enjoys being one of the latter. And as maintenance supervisor at an apartment complex, he’s always in demand.
He’s also good at what he does. Davis, who works at the Brockton Commons Apartments, made it to the finals of the 6th annual Maintenance Mania competition, which recently pitted 3,000 of the nation’s top tinkerers in a battle to find out who’s best at installing fixtures, fixing appliances, and finding leaks. Think of it as the Handyman Olympics.
“I love seeing the athletes excel,” Davis said, referring to those other games just held in London. “But at the end of the day, when they’re done running and jumping and swimming, they’re hoping — and so is everybody else — that a guy like me made sure their lights were working and their AC was working and their toilets were flushing.”
The competition for the top 20 finalists was held in late June during the National Apartment Association’s annual National Education Conference & Exposition in Boston. But first the field was whittled down during a series of regional qualifying events.
Davis, 29, was one of the 20 finalists — the first ever from the Boston area and the only one in the region, which includes all of New England, New York, and New Jersey. He was also a real contender for the title, according to Doug Culkin, president and chief executive of the National Apartment Association.
“JP was great, but unfortunately for him, a few of his peers were just a little faster this time around,” Culkin said. “But like the other finalists, he showed the spirit of the competition, which is that structural maintenance work is no lightweight job.”
The seven timed final-round events were performing a deadbolt key control test, replacing heating coils and drip pans on a stove, completing the last steps in a ceiling fan installation, installing a smoke and carbon monoxide monitor, changing flush and fill valves to convert a toilet to a water-saving dual flush system, and replacing valve stems on a bath faucet.
He completed all those tasks in 2 minutes, 11 seconds.
“So that was a pretty good time,” said Davis, aware surely that those kinds of minor installations and repairs might take the average homeowner hours to complete. (If, indeed, they ever got done.) “And even better, all my items got fixed.”
Mike Hendel, a senior manager at San Diego-based HD Supply, created Maintenance Mania in 2005.
“We weren’t that far removed from the 2004 Summer Olympics,” Hendel said. “And we just started talking and joking about how if they wanted to break a sweat there should’ve been a maintenance man competition for the Olympics. There were regional events going on that were similar. The idea sort of grew from those.”
With Hendel’s own company, which distributes everything from tools to plumbing supplies, serving as primary sponsor, the National Apartment Association rounded up two dozen other sponsors, including Motorola, Kwikset Smartkey Technology, GE Appliances, and Frigidaire, and the games began.
“It’s funny, because sometimes maintenance personnel find themselves the butt of jokes or of the public’s anger if things aren’t working,” Hendel said. “So in that first year, not as many people signed up to compete. They’re not by nature self-promotional in their jobs, but they should be putting a spotlight on themselves.”
Jose Torreblanca, a maintenance worker in Indianapolis and winner of the 2012 Maintenance Mania games, said he was initially reluctant to participate, but now he loves the competition.
“I think a lot of us wondered at first if this would just be something people used to make fun of us,” said Torreblanca, who won the competition this year by completing the seven maintenance tasks in 1 minute, 44.3 seconds.
“What changed our attitude about it was the fact that of all the people who attend the national expo — thousands of people — it seemed like the one thing everybody wanted to attend, from the property owners on to the maintenance people, was Maintenance Mania. So pretty quickly, it became a point of pride for us.”
Torreblanca went back to Indy with a gold medal, a trophy, an Apartment Maintenance Technician certification class scholarship, a 55-inch LCD television, $500 worth of stuff from HD Supply’s tool, a gadget catalog, and an iPad.
Davis said he’s happy for Torreblanca.
“I’d have preferred it for myself, of course, but Jose is a good guy,” he said. “He had a great attitude, and that can be hard to do sometimes in a field where people expect miracles on their timetable. I have great tenants where I work. I’m blessed that way. But like a lot of industries, I’ve heard stories from other people in this business.”
There’s no such thing as a typical day for a maintenance person, Davis said. The day can start with a clogged toilet, go from there to a broken air conditioner to someone spotting a fly and asking him to kill it.
The strangest requests he gets? “Anything to do with lost items in toilets,” he said. “I once had a person call me because he’d accidentally flushed his father’s dentures. He wanted me to recover them. So I had to take the toilet apart, flip it, root around in there and find the dentures. I guess that wasn’t so strange. But what was is that the owner of the dentures wanted them back after they’d been deep inside a toilet for 24 hours.”
Davis, who worked in construction, recalls his start as a maintenance man in 2007, facing tenants and even homeowners who would show him things like cabinet doors with the handles ripped off and walls with fist-sized holes in them and demand that he make everything like new immediately.
“It was a learning experience,” he said “I guess I learned two things over the years: that working quickly pleases everyone, and that the better quality the materials I’m using, the less often I have to repair something.”
James H. Burnett III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JamesBurnett.