2020 Hero: Interview with Lazar Vilimonovic, Electrical Engineer, Fredrick, Fredrick & Heller Engineers

Lazar Vilimonovic

In the last year, the construction industry has responded to a number of challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of these challenges was how to help healthcare professionals on the front lines by designing and building environments that support them in the lifesaving work they do each day. When you combine a willingness to learn and grow with a desire to help people like these healthcare workers in their time of need, it's no wonder Lazar Villimonovic was named to this year's Autodesk 40 Under 40: Champions of Construction.

As an Electrical Engineer at Fredrick, Fredrick & Heller Engineers, Lazar helps design electrical systems for medical, office, and educational environments throughout the Midwest, with a significant presence in the healthcare and government industry. This year, Lazar was on the front lines of the Coronavirus crisis and was assigned to multiple COVID-19 surge teams throughout the pandemic. He's spent this last year working to make sure our hospitals are prepared for coronavirus case surges, and his work has been crucial in saving lives.  

Some of Lazar's projects included COVID Surge planning campus-wide for University Hospitals and The Cleveland Clinic. By meeting the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic head-on and frequently going the extra mile to help others involved in his projects, Lazar is one of our 2020 Heroes. Our 2020 Heroes series recognizes our 40 Under 40: Champions of Construction 2020 who have gone above and beyond contributing to their firms, projects, and communities despite the challenges of the year. 

We recently spoke to Lazar about his journey in the construction industry and how the pandemic has shaped his work in the last year. Read his story below.  

Tell us a little bit about Fredrick, Fredrick & Heller Engineers and what you specialize in.

FF&H is a small consulting engineering firm, located in Northeast Ohio, of 20 mechanical and electrical engineers. The firm provides consulting services for a range of industries, including the government sector, small businesses, retail, but typically our niche is healthcare. We conduct a lot of healthcare engineering for hospitals in the Cleveland area, such as the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and Veteran's Administration Hospital. I specialize on the electrical design side in providing engineering services for our clients. 

You've spent a great deal of time working to make sure hospitals were prepared for the COVID surge cases. Tell us more about that.

Cases began to surge throughout the United States as well as the rest of the world around February of this year. Several hospitals were quickly beginning to get overwhelmed with treating patients. The goal from the start was to provide protection for all healthcare and essential workers as well as plan for existing hospital beds to reach capacity. We assisted some of the healthcare systems in the Northeast, Ohio region to help plan and prepare for a surge of cases in the area. ICU beds are the most critical areas in the hospital. It's vital to make sure that those numbers are down and healthcare professionals can ensure all patients are treated.  

We were tasked to travel from different facilities throughout Northeast Ohio and assess them to understand if there were a surge in cases that they would be prepared.

We did this starting in February all the way through July until they had a good grasp of how to treat this and what was needed.

It was probably for a good three months that I was in a different hospital every single day for the entire day, just walking into the space, coordinating with the owners, making sure the facility people were up-to-date with what needed to happen.

At that time, we were so unsure of what was going to happen. Things were changing so fast; regulations were updated day by day. We had to be aware of all government and healthcare orders and make sure that we were safe at the same time. 

How do you continue to stay creative, dedicated, and empathetic at work?

One of the main reasons I love my job is that there's not much repetition in what I do. Every single project I work on is so unique in its own way. I personally feel that I can never get bored, tired, or fed up with what I do because every project is different to an extent. 

We work in healthcare, so code and regulations are slightly different from the other sectors of engineering. Being able to design or put efforts into something that will ultimately change or affect people's lives makes me proud to contribute. 

When you look back at 2020, are there any silver linings, lessons learned, key takeaways?

During this pandemic, lives as well as routines have changed. Being in the healthcare sector, I always knew that it would be very demanding, but due to COVID and all the surge planning activities that I was put on, I had to separate myself from a lot of my friends and my family.

I think the biggest thing is that you can't dwell on a lot of the things you can't control, and there's so much uncertainty and so much has happened, you blink, and you look, and it's already November; 2020's almost over. From where it started to where we are now, so much has changed and it's just mind-blowing to think about that. These last eight months  feels like eight years. But I know I need to keep moving forward, do the things I need to do, and go from there. 

Who have been your heroes this year? How have they made an impact on your life? 

My parents have been extremely important in my career and supportive as well. In addition to my family members, the people I work with have also been heroes this year to me. We've all come together this year and shown up when it matters most. With everything that's been going on, we've seen many people step up in the office. One person, in particular, is the vice president of our company. They've invested a lot of time into me, and it shows.  

Looking ahead to 2021 (and beyond), what do you think construction professionals and firms need to do to stay resilient?

Prior to the pandemic, the economy was doing very well.

I believe that construction professionals and firms will be able to recover quickly from the unprecedented times we have all gone through.

We should continue to trust our healthcare professionals and essential workers and look ahead at what 2021 has to offer. 

Alyssa Jaber

As Manager of Customer Marketing at Autodesk, Alyssa Jaber has been partnering with Autodesk customers in the construction space for 5+ years to build their brands and powerfully tell their stories. Alyssa is a human-first leader who supports a team of talented individuals who always put the customer experience first.