When I lived in Fort Liard and my friend Norris came to visit, he asked me why I didn't hire a painting company to paint my house (I had recruited volunteers to help). I explained that Fort Liard was a small community with 600 people; there were no painting companies. The closest dedicated house painting company, I figured, was a six hour drive away.
"What about plumbers?"
"What about home heating?"
I explained that (at the time) the closest dedicated furnace technician was a six hour drive away, albeit from a different direction - assuming that he was available to come and work on the furnace at all. An expensive service, to be sure.
"What do you do if your furnace stops working?"
I had asked myself that same question many times. Our furnace was a beast, possibly 40-years-old and big enough to heat a building four times the size of our little house. The nearest furnace repair business really was a day or two away and possibly more if the weather was bad or he had other emergencies which needed attending.
"Who do you hire if you need something done, then?"
That was the magic question. When you live in a small, remote community, you don't often need to hire anyone to get something done. Somebody in town probably knows enough to solve the problem or patch together a solution. If the first person you ask doesn't know, they'll call in somebody else and they'll keep calling until your problem has been fixed. If your problem is a particularly complex one, don't be surprised if you've got a half-dozen guys milling around your furnace, proposing and trying new solutions. With their collective knowledge, there isn't much that will go unsolved.
No payment is required, either, and most will consider it insulting if you even offer; you'll likely have a chance to return the favour in another way on other day.
And that's why I love living in a small community - everyone is self-reliant and everyone is willing to lend a hand if you need one. I learned more about fixing furnaces (and other home maintenance/repair jobs) in my four all-too-short years in Fort Liard than I had in my entire life before then or since.
I also learned that it's a good idea to have an emergency home heating plan, just in case. In Fort Liard, it was more likely that the power would fail than my furnace would fail. Without the electricity, though, the furnace wouldn't work. I bought some catalytic propane heaters that I could use around the house to keep the pipes from freezing, just in case. Since we were on a trucked water and sewage system, leaving the water running was not an option. I used them once, but didn't need to use them for very long before the power came back on.
Since then, I've loaned the heaters out on a few occasions for people who had extended furnace issues - and that's where the irony lies. I live in Whitehorse now, where there are many, many, many services available for homeowners. It's in Whitehorse that I've had to lend out the heaters. It's in Whitehorse right now, where I supposedly have access to 24-hour furnace repair and can't get a technician to come and fix my furnace because they're not answering the phone.
I know what the problem is with my furnace: The heating oil company didn't deliver heating oil when they were supposed to (they came about an hour after I called at midnight). The fuel line runs up past the oil tank, through the house, and down to the furnace - much like a siphon. Because the tank drained, the siphon lost it's, uh, siphonability. Now I've got a line full of air and need to pump the air out of the line and the fuel back through the line. Short of putting my lips to the line and sucking (no thanks) I don't know to draw the fuel through the 35' of line.
If I still lived in Fort Liard, somebody would know how to do it and I wouldn't have to get all frustrated with the 24-hour home heating company that must be operating on some magical 24-hour clock that has shorter hours than the clocks I use.
It's 03:01. It has been three-and-a-half hours since we clued in that the furnace stopped working. I suppose I'll try calling again...