Realistically training employees has utility company using tiny homes, real gas

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Over the past three months the new training facility for Columbia Gas has proven to be quite beneficial to employees, according to trainers.

Brandon Dawson is a Plant Technical Trainer at the facility and has 14 years of service under his belt. He says training today compared to when he started is like night and day.

“We’ve come so far from when I started,” said Dawson. “This [facility] takes it to a whole ‘nother level (sic).”

Dawson says new employees are getting better training now than they ever had before. He also says they are learning faster as well. He credits the hands on training focus the company has moved to.

Up until about three years ago, training was predominantly lecture based and held in conference rooms or garages.

All of that has changed now with the construction of a multi-million dollar facility.

While classroom-learning lectures still make up about 30 percent of employee training, the remaining 70 percent uses equipment and technology previously unavailable in many cases.

One example of this is what trainers call Safety Town; a mock-up of a neighborhood complete with tiny houses, roads, and gas fed street lights all programmable with 50 different scenarios based on what employees may encounter in the field.

Encounters can range from locating gas lines, to finding leaks, or even interacting with customers that may be in the middle of a squabble.

Ambient sound is piped into the miniature neighborhood to provide a level of realism that trainees say helps immerse them in the scenario and forces them to be aware of their surroundings.

Some of the homes have basements, crawlspaces, and appliances.

Just outside of Safety Town, the facility has rows of vaults and pits from three to six feet deep that workers can train in.

On the other end of Safety Town is the fire safety training area.

Perhaps one of the most deadly and rare situations any natural gas employee may face is a fire, but trainers want the employees to be confident, comfortable, and competent in addressing such an emergency if they have to.

Real gas is used and ignited at one of four apparatus that such a fire could spark from.

At the training facility, the dangers are real, and the culture of safety first is paramount.

Whether the trainee is practicing on equipment using air instead of gas makes no difference, safety of themselves and others is the number one priority.

The building itself cost tens of millions of dollars to build and operate, however, a Columbia Gas spokesman says it will be worth every dime if the training conducted there saves a single life or prevents an incident.

Within six months Columbia Gas hopes to open the fire safety training area and Safety Town to first responders from all over the state, so they can train on how to best deal with gas emergencies.

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