Alan Jaffe: A journey in refrigeration

Alan Jaffe holding his original apprenticeship papers

Just a month or two off from his 80th birthday, you wouldn’t know it to look at Alan Jaffe in his tidy office in Orakei.  It is the desk of someone who is still working professionally, with ample evidence that his IQP and HVAC consultancy is keeping him busy.  Alan is living proof that there is something in refrigerant that keeps engineers young.  He describes his career as a journey;

“My earliest experience of refrigeration was seeing a refrigerator being delivered to my parents' state house at 62 Waiohua Road One Tree Hill...that would have been when I was 6 years old: I recall opening the panel at the bottom of the refrigerator and seeing a round wheel turning with a fan connected to it...and asking my Dad 'how did that make it cold inside the refrigerator'? I don't recall his answer, but the fascination lasted for many years.”  Alan went on to relate an incident when the refrigerator at the family holiday house “let out a dreadful smell, that burnt one's eyes and left a horrible taste.”  The smell was sulphur dioxide and Alan accompanied his Dad to a small service company workshop at the top of Kelmarna Ave in Herne Bay that carried out the repair.

“When we moved to Herne Bay in 1946, I had a school friend, Ian Macdonald, whose father owned a factory in Freeman's Bay making and repairing domestic refrigerators and commercial refrigeration units...with Ian and his Dad I would observe refrigeration and soon learnt what all the parts were for.”

In his last year at Auckland Grammar Alan’s father gave him the blunt choice of an apprenticeship in the family tailoring business, a cadetship on a cargo vessel as a refrigeration engineer, or an apprenticeship at McAlpine Refrigeration Ltd.  There was no contest, and his Dad took him to McAlpine's office where he was greeted by Mr. McAlpine and the engineer responsible for apprentices “...a small discussion took  place, where out  came a document to which I signed my name along with Dad as an apprentice in refrigeration servicing.” 

“To this day I have always looked back at the wisdom and direction that my Dad put into finding me a wonderful trade.”

Alan’s apprenticeship took five years to complete interrupted by compulsory military training. His experience is a testament to the thoroughness of training at the time, covering fitting and turning, insulation and cabinet construction, refrigeration unit assembly and testing, electrical diagnosis and servicing, refrigeration installation and pipework, charging systems, and commissioning and servicing.  It was a good start to an interesting career.  His Trade Certificate enabled him to have a working holiday in Australia where he had no trouble finding work with Frigidaire that helped him develop people skills and experience new technology.

When Alan returned from Australia he was accepted back at his old employers McAlpine Refrigeration as a service technician and gained further experiences with maintenance of large heat pump type systems.  In 1964 he took a position as a sales engineer with Fisher Paykel Frigrite. Alan says of that time: “I was trained in all aspects of engineering, selection and sales management by the late James Hawke, who was an exceptional mentor to me: he allowed me to develop my selling skills in a rapidly expanding company that manufactured, installed and maintained a large range of air conditioning systems throughout New Zealand.”  Alan set up a nationwide network of dealers for packaged air conditioning systems including a range of room air conditioners manufactured in Australia by Kelvinator Industries. These were imported on a NAFTA agreement where, in exchange, F & P exported products from their large manufacturing facilities throughout New Zealand.

Alan’s professional development expanded into tutoring at Carrington Technical Institute, teaching Quantity Surveyors the basics of HVAC & R in modern buildings. He also took on technical roles with Government agencies, including advising the Toxic Substance Board on the effects of refrigerants polluting the Ozone layer, as well as working with Standards New Zealand to create NZS 4302:1987, the Code of Practice for the control of hygiene in air and water systems in buildings, and  NZS 4303:1990 Ventilation for Acceptable  Indoor Air Quality. Much of this work would have been voluntary over and above his day to day responsibilities.

In a career as long and as illustrious as Alan’s it is a challenge doing justice to his contribution to the industry over the years.  His accomplishments included senior management in Fletcher Mechanical, Carrier Zonepak and Cooltemp as well as a stint back at his old company McAlpine as sales manager for their air conditioning division.

Alan formed his own company with two partners in 1987.  They held agencies for various manufacturers importing air conditioning and related products. In 1992 Alan started another business focusing on a wide range of data loggers, electrical test instruments, volt sensors and power line filters. Not satisfied with marketing products Alan registered with the Auckland  Council as an Independent Qualified Person  ( IQP) for confirming compliance of mechanical ventilation and air conditioning systems with the Building Act, work he still carries on with today.

Like so many people in the HVAC&R industry there is another side to Alan Jaffe; the father and family man with strong ties to the Auckland Jewish community where for many years he was President of B'nai B'rith, an international charity.  His practical skills extend into DIY and home maintenance. He continues to actively support his local branch of IRHACE, attending conferences and trade nights regularly.  A gentleman and “fridgie”, and a pleasure to interview.

Matt Allfree