CHESTER — With tours, demonstrations and occasional giant blasts of safely controlled natural gas flames, Columbia Gas of Virginia celebrated the opening of a new training facility for employees who operate and maintain the company’s natural gas distribution system across the commonwealth.
“The new leading-edge center helps Columbia’s more than 400 Virginia employees develop the knowledge and skills needed to deliver safe, reliable and efficient service to the company’s more than 270,000 natural gas customers,” the company said in a press release. “The $9 million, 22,000-square-foot facility in Chester is the third of four new training centers being built by Columbia’s parent company, NiSource Inc. (NYSE: NI). The other new centers are in Ohio, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.”
To mark completion of the Virginia center, Columbia Gas and NiSource on Wednesday hosted an open house for employees, customers, elected and regulatory officials, first responders and other guests.
“Our new Virginia Training Center is much more than just a brick-and-mortar building,” said Columbia Gas of Virginia President Brent Archer. “It represents an investment in our team, and our promise to deliver safe, reliable and efficient service to all Columbia Gas of Virginia customers.”
The new training center features learning environments designed specifically for adult students in the highly technical natural gas industry. In designing the center, the company incorporated best practices from a variety of industries, trades, and public and private settings. Some key features include:
- Emergency Response Safety Town, a mock neighborhood of mini-homes and businesses with functioning pipelines, meters and other natural gas facilities. From a command center, instructors can create and control various training scenarios, including leak simulations. Trainers also use the area to teach procedures such as service hook-ups, utility locating, leak detection and corrosion monitoring.
- Virtual Training Simulators allowing employees to experience work activities in a controlled and safe environment, including a virtual backhoe station and a “slip, trip and fall” simulator. Hands-on labs and demonstration areas focus on key areas of natural gas work, including natural gas service, installation of gas pipelines and equipment, and natural gas measurement and regulation.
- Excavator School, an outdoor space for practicing heavy equipment use in a safe, controlled environment (serving as a complement to the classroom simulator).
- Fire Safety Training Area, a controlled outdoor area to practice fighting natural gas fires in monitored exercises. Trainers can start and stop the controlled fires with specially designed valves while instructors work alongside students to safely extinguish fires.
“This new training center truly is a game-changer when it comes to developing and maintaining the skills of our entire workforce,” said Phil Wilson, vice president and general manager. “With ongoing advances in natural gas safety, materials and technology, continuous learning is vital for every member of our team, and this new center is an important part of that commitment to our customers and the communities we serve.”
In addition to training Columbia Gas employees, Wilson noted that the company will be partnering with local first responders to coordinate natural gas safety training opportunities for emergency responders.