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Out of the bowels of the building, into the spotlight

Leo Kempf fills an important yet sometimes unseen part of Tri-County Hospital's staff as the plant operations manager for the maintenance department.

And Kempf was rewarded for his work by receiving the Minnesota Health Care Engineering Award for 2006. He received the award at an annual health care engineer convention in September.

"I didn't think I deserved the award," Kempf said.

The modest Kempf said he wasn't sure why he was chosen or what qualifications were looked at when he was given the award.

The award is in recognition of Kempf's outstanding effort to perpetuate the state seminar and his untiring commitment and dedication to the health care engineering profession in Minnesota. About 180 engineers who work for health care facilities, such as hospitals and nursing homes, were at September's convention, Kempf said.

In April 1973, Kempf began as an electrical maintenance worker at Tri-County Hospital. After about a month, he became the supervisor. He oversees the maintenance of the entire facility, including the heating system, ventilation and air conditioning. Maintenance workers take care of trouble shooting and breakdowns with operations at the hospital.

Kempf's work can be seen inside and outside the hospital.

"One big thing I did was design the heli-pad according to state and federal regulations," he said. "The lights and everything."

Smaller projects have included plowing snow outside the hospital in the winter.

"I've plowed snow since I started almost 34 years ago," Kempf said.

Most recently, the engineering department played a large role in the hospital's expansion project. He helped to install the new generator by working closely with the designers. The hospital could run off of the generator in an emergency, Kempf said.

Working in a health care facility requires keeping up with technology, he said. Since he began working at the hospital, nearly everything has become computerized.

Attending the health care engineering seminars allows Kempf and other engineers to discuss different issues in their facilities and share experiences.

"We can ask others about something and they may have experienced the same thing already," he said.

Through his years at Tri-County Hospital, Kempf still enjoys his work.

"The fun part of it is, it's a variety of work and challenges," he said.

Some days he works to solve questions with electricity and other days he's diagnosing problems with the air conditioner, he said.

When he's not working, Kempf enjoys fishing in Canada, along with his wife, Sharon.

"I just enjoy life," he said.