When exactly the American Society of Concrete Contractors (ASCC) started its hotline service for members is not clear. “It may have occurred at the same time as the creation of the organization,” says Ward Malisch, the person who currently picks up the phone when it rings. When ASCC started the hotline there were other associations providing a similar service. For example, you could call ACI for questions related to ACI rules and guidelines. The Portland Cement Association, until recently, had a dedicated staff person available for its hotline. Anyone could call with questions about concrete or jobsite problems. But that’s all changed and ASCC is the only association left with a dedicated hotline and the opportunity to talk to a real person.
There have been a number of people assigned to the ASCC hotline over the years; all of them also held editorial positions with Concrete Construction magazine. Malisch has held the position three times during his career, once from 1985 to 1992 when he left CC to work for ACI in Detroit, between 1996 and 2001 when he rejoined the CC staff as its editor-in-chief, leaving again to work for ACI. More recently he works on the ASCC staff on a part time basis with answering the hotline as one of his responsibilities. Today, as recognized experts in the industry, Malish and Bruce Suprenant often work as a collaborative team to help callers with information.
Why call a hotline?
The ASCC hotline is a member-only service, though Malisch says he sometimes responds to a nonmember’s call because the question asked is so compelling—he also promotes the value of joining the ASCC to these callers.
The benefits and limits of calling the ASCC hotline include:
- Callers talk to a real person about the questions they have.
- Callers talk with someone who has expert information about their problem.
- Malisch almost always reviews ACI documents with callers, telling them how to locate the sections relevant to the problem.
- Malisch also refers callers to articles written for Concrete Construction, Concrete International, and other industry publications.
- Some calls are from lawyers who want information pertaining to a case they are working on. Often this follows with a request to testify on their clients’ behalf in court, a request ASCC declines because it wants to provide information—not be involved in a lawsuit.
- College students like hotlines too. They want information for class papers or projects they are working on. When it seems they are trying to use the expert to do their work for them they are provided with some direction and urged to continue the research.
- Callers sometimes want free engineering advice. Malisch is careful to offer engineering concerns but not engineering opinions. The latter falls into the project engineer’s area of responsibility (and liability).
Malisch likes talking to contractors when they are in the planning phase of a project. Discovering issues and resolving them before work begins is always the best way. Then, there is time for collaborative problem-solving between all parties.
Here are some of the types of calls ASCC gets:
Gary Bishop, vice president of field operations for Ervin Bishop Construction, Tampa, Fla., says one of their projects was for a medical facility replacing floor slabs. “The engineer for the project designed control cuts for the floor around the surgical areas where there couldn’t be any, and a nurse tripped and sued the hospital and won.” Bishop knew the location of the control cuts wouldn’t prevent cracks from developing but was directed to install the work as specified. He realized they would have to write a letter to the owner stating the company wouldn’t accept liability for improper joints and this is what inspired a call to the hotline. Malisch gave him pointers on how the letter should be written. Bishop says their membership in ASCC is valuable for them and they use the hotline whenever they have questions they can’t answer.
Recently Russ Hacker with Duckworth Brothers, Battle Creek, Mich., wanted more help than the hotline could provide. They were faced with a concrete slab design that was too heavy for the supporting metal deck under it. There was significant movement in the deck so Hacker needed a mix design to handle the problem. But the hotline service doesn’t create mixes for specific job applications. However, the information he got helped him understand what he needed to know and he was able to solve the problem. Hacker says he calls the hotline often and always appreciates the help.
The value of hotlines
You might think the value of hotline services is a thing of the past. The internet, allowing one to search any topic, might seem to be all that anyone needs today—and it’s true you can learn a lot from the web. But the internet should carry a “buyer beware” label because anyone can add content or self-proclaim themselves to be experts. Sometimes it’s difficult to know if the information you are reading is factual.
The ASCC hotline, on the other hand, is staffed by knowledgeable experts. If they don’t have an answer to your question they will say that. If you are asking for information that requires a consultants’ help, they will tell you that and guide you to the right questions to ask the consultant.
Best of all, you get to talk to a real person so you can discuss your ideas and often come up with a solution.