Curtis Gomez recently became the ALS electrical safety officer. Besides looking out for hazards, his work in motor controls coordination draws from a TV and radio background—and working for a local band that made it big.
What is your role at the ALS?
I have several roles—I do motor controls coordination, equipment protection systems (EPS) testing, and I recently became the ALS electrical safety officer. Right now, I’m coordinating the motor controls and all the associated chassis fabrication, cabling, termination, and inspection work for the AMBER and QERLIN projects. Termination is adding the connectors, after which the electronic maintenance technicians (EMs) do a wire check to ensure that all the connections are true. If they aren’t, it goes back to electronic installation (EI) for correction, and then it is re-verified to make sure everything works. That’s why, when things get plugged in here at the ALS, they usually work right off the bat.
I like all of it—anything that involves learning something new, staying active, doing chassis and schematic drafting. It’s fun; it’s like doing a puzzle.
What are your goals for electrical safety?
As the electrical safety officer, you want to make sure that people coming in with experimental setups have equipment that’s recognized by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) like UL. Even the cord on the back of your computer has to be NRTL. I also review high-voltage test setups and associated LOTO (Lock Out Tag Out) procedures and some safety equipment purchases to make sure that they meet the current safety codes outlined by the NEC (National Electrical Code), NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), and other certifying bodies.
Our desire is to make things safer. With our users, we want to make sure that their experiments go as planned and safety plays a big part. At the recent Energy Facility Contractors Group (EFCOG) conference, we covered identifying counterfeit products. They have NRTL markings, but there’s usually something odd about counterfeit components and hardware that you have to recognize.
Another topic was lithium-ion battery dangers. Many labs are getting electrical vehicle charging stations, homes are getting power walls, and we’re realizing that we need to know more about dealing with lithium-ion battery fires. You can’t turn off a battery, so how do you mitigate hazards associated with that?
I just want everyone to be safety conscious, not just from an electrical aspect, but with everything. If you see anything that you feel is unsafe, bring it to someone’s attention.
What did you do before you came to the ALS?
Primarily post production and broadcast engineering. I have seven years of manufacturing engineering for ADA Signal Processors right here in Berkeley. I worked six years as a radio broadcast engineer for KIOI, KITS, and KBLX, five years in the international field service for Euphonix, and 20 years in television and film posts in Burbank. Thankfully, my manufacturing engineering, radio, and motion picture experience are all uniquely suited to the rf, timing and radiation safety systems at the ALS.
As a side gig, I did stage lighting and tech work for the band Primus for nine years. They have a lot of fans here at the Lab; the Primus fan base basically grew up in Berkeley. They used to play at the Berkeley Square and the student co-ops back in the ‘80s. Many people know them from the South Park theme. I’m mentioned in two songs; that’s kind of cool. It’s funny, if you go to a show now, everyone is in their fifties and sixties. So not as much stage diving.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I primarily work on my house. I like doing carpentry and am starting a seismic retrofit. Like the Lab, I’m on the Hayward Fault. I’m a big science fiction fan and like collecting comics and action figures from the genre. We have rescue dogs—a pit bull and two Chihuahua mixes that keep us busy. I’ve done various martial arts from age eight and consequently a UFC fan, so I’m looking forward to getting back into martial arts now that I’m on day shift again.