Safety Town a training hub for Chesapeake Utilities

Distribution technicians Tim Brown and Glenn Wilson clamp a simulated underground metal hose during a safety drill at Chesapeake Utilities in Dover on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Training to handle natural gas emergencies doesn’t require a flight to a faraway spot such as Athens, Alabama anymore.

Thanks to the newly opened Safety Town, Chesapeake Utility meter and distribution technicians can walk to the back side of the complex on Energy Lane and start learning best practices right in Dover.

“It’s a million dollar investment but the returns will (probably) be beyond what we expect,” said Chesapeake Utilities Vice President Shane Breakie. “Just to have this environment where we can train our employees in a controlled atmosphere throughout the year so you don’t have to worry about the elements is invaluable.”

The capacity to train crews locally couldn’t come at a more fortunate time as COVID-19 pandemic continues on.

“With the COVID situation, now it makes even better sense that we can keep it on site and not have to worry about sending people away,” Mr. Breakie said.

Dover firefighters set up during a safety drill at Chesapeake Utilities’ Safety Town in Dover on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Chesapeake employees built the facility, which covers two acres. A noticeable part of the area is still covered with straw to promote grass seed to grow.

“It was a tremendous morale booster for the guys who actually came out to do the installation knowing they’re going to be part of someone learning at this facility 10 years from now,” said Manager of Compliance and Gas Conversion Steve Tull.

Also assisting in the construction and framing of eight simulated houses for residential property training were three Polytech High students.

The quick access to infrastructure designed to provide simulated scenarios is a time-saving benefit, Mr. Tull said. Besides emergency preparedness drills, the facility allows for routine training as well.

“A couple years ago out here before we built this facility it took all day to dig up that line, get everything set up, get the trucks hooked up to the air,” he said.

Training Coordinator Anthony Coker talks about the Training Trailer at Chesapeake Utilities in Dover on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“This way I can come right out, turn the air on and teach a guy how to do a squeeze off (to control gas flow in a pipe).”

According to training coordinator Anthony Coker, “This is a fully immersive experience where we can allow our employees to get hands-on training for both the task they’re performing as well as the tasks they perform together with our first responders and our public safety representatives.”

Officials said issues arise intermittently and could perhaps occur three times in a day; there could also be a two-week period nothing happens, they said.

“They can be as sporadic as can be and you never know when they’re going to happen but the better training we can provide, especially collaborative training, the better suited for our employees will be when they have to respond and face that danger,” Mr. Coker said.

Chesapeake Utilities has partnered with the Dover Fire Department, whose crews will respond to natural gas emergencies as warranted and coordinate efforts with Chesapeake Utilities responders.

“The ability to partner with the fire department on a live gas scenario without actually having to have gas involved so they’re safe, to go through the motions, to use the tools and make a mistake if they need to learn versus in the field if it were a real life scenario is just a tremendous improvement in training procedures,” Mr. Coker said.

This is a period of growth for Chesapeake Utilities, which has plans for a Somerset County Expansion Project that would provide natural gas for Eastern Correctional Institution and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Residents and businesses along the line will experience the benefits of using an “environmentally beneficial and less expensive natural gas service,” according to a company outline.

Eastern Shore Natural Gas Co., a subsidiary of Chesapeake Utilities Corp., will also take part in developing the project.

The target date for first delivery is summer 2021, spokesman Justin Mulcahy said.

Chesapeake Utilities said bringing the natural gas to Somerset County will support more than 1,300 construction jobs over the next 10 years and more than $7 million in new wages as a result of lower energy costs. It is one of three Maryland counties without access to natural gas, according to Chesapeake Utilities.

“Our new Safety Town state-of-the-art training facility provides employees hands-on training and simulated on-the-job field experiences, which will help us maintain the integrity of our current infrastructure and future projects such as the Somerset natural gas expansion,” Mr. Breakie said.

Besides the houses, the Safety Town facility also includes:

• A pole barn to store materials and the trailer

• A canopy building to house valve manifolds to be used in simulated equipment inspections

According to Chesapeake Utilities, the facility can provide training for:

• Emergency response

• Underground line locating

• Natural gas equipment integrity inspections

• Main installation and repair

• Valve identification and operation

• Meter and regulator station installation and repair