Janesville plumber lives in camper in driveway to protect his family

Published: Apr. 9, 2020 at 8:04 AM CDT
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Like so many fathers and husbands, Mike Barlass wants to do anything he can to protect his family.

As a plumber, Barlass is an essential worker, responding to emergency house calls during the pandemic. To ensure he doesn’t risk picking up anything on the job and bringing it back home with him, Barlass has decided to go on a bit of an extended camping trip, making a home for himself in a camper parked in the driveway of his Janesville home.

"It's tough for me going in, I'm in people's bathrooms and in their houses working on sinks and everything else, touching everything they're touching,” he said. “I’m being extra careful.”

Barlass said because they’ve limited their calls to emergency calls only, he is in and out of about three to four houses on a typical work day. Despite taking precautions at work, Barlass said the risk of unknowingly bringing the virus to his wife, two kids, and nephew at home just wasn’t worth it.

“I didn’t want to put my family in harm's way, so I figured it was just easier for me to set up our camper and stay out here,” he said. “That way I’m not possibly contaminating them with the virus or dragging it into the house or anything else like that.”

His wife, Renee Barlass, said initially she had hoped to make a project out of the camper, redoing the flooring and reupholstering the interior before the summer, when the family takes the camper, dogs in tow, to camp. That’s when she said Mike got the idea to live in it instead.

“My husband is now staying out in our pop up camper since he is a service worker and he’s in everybody’s homes and he doesn’t know where they’ve been or if they’re not feeling well or not, so he thought it’d be better to be safe than sorry and stay out in our driveway," she said.

Barlass said he has everything he needs in the camper, which he’s been living in for over a week, although there is one thing he can’t get inside the camper that he said he misses.

"The smell of my wife’s cooking,” he said. “She’s a very good cook and it always amazes me how good her food smells when she’s cooking."

Renee makes sure to bring those meals out to Mike, or have him pick them up from the front door. Renee said they still maintain some aspects of their normal routine, like their morning and weekend coffee dates.

“He sits on the stoop of the camper, I sit on the stoop of the house so we're six feet apart and we'll sit there and talk,” she said. “When he comes home from work I go out there and we sit and talk about his days so he can decompress a little bit, and I try and send his meals out there to him, we’ll sit out there and eat our meals.”

Barlass said he’s willing to stay out in the camper as long as necessary until he feels it’s safe to go back inside to his family.

"We want to thank our first responders first and foremost of course, but we also want to remember that there are the other essential workers who are also putting their lives out there, risking getting sick and stuff like that, and we can't forget about them as well," said Renee.

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