A new training facility will help UniSource gas employees sharpen their skills when responding to reported leaks, damaged underground equipment and other natural gas emergencies.

Construction began in November for the new Prescott facility, which will provide valuable training experiences that can’t quite be conveyed through training videos or instructional manuals.

“Safety is at the center of everything we do. Our goal is to provide top-notch instruction so that employees can respond as quickly and safely as possible to emergencies while providing great service to our customers and the public,” said Martin Anaya, Director of UniSource Gas.

The facility provides a controlled space that allows employees to train in company policies and procedures and maintain certifications required by federal safety regulations. The site uses modified storage sheds to represent homes, duplexes and commercial buildings on a mock roadway. Natural gas meters and working natural gas appliances are installed in some sheds. It even includes street signs and simulated underground utilities like electric and telecommunications lines.

“We’ve turned the site into a training facility where we can simulate not only leaks, but also train service technicians how to go into homes and light appliances, or set and exchange meters. We have tenured employees who are helping us develop and design scenarios that are as real as we can make them,” said Curtis Asselstine, Manager of Gas Engineering and Technical Services. “We’ll be able to review procedures in the classroom, then walk outside and simulate what they’re going to experience in the field.”

A trainee, for example, might respond to a customer report of a natural gas smell near their range. The employee will practice safety procedures upon arrival, and then conduct leak tests and repairs.

The facility also offers outdoor training in inspection and repair of regulator stations, anti-corrosion protection, installation and repair of steel gas lines, underground gas line location detection and a dedicated area for heavy equipment operation.

“The facility includes an air compressor and storage tanks that can be used to simulate blowing gas from damaged underground pipelines. Employees will put on self-contained breathing apparatuses and experience dirt blowing in their faces while trying to repair a damaged pipeline,” Asselstine said.

UniSource also plans to conduct emergency response training exercises at the site with local fire departments and police agencies.

“There are probably 100 different scenarios we could simulate here,” Anaya said. “We’re building an efficient, cost-effective training facility that will provide our employees with high-quality training experiences, and most importantly, how to do it safely.”

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