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Virginia Natural Gas works with first responders

More than 400 first responders from across Hampton Roads recently received training on how to properly respond to a natural gas pipeline incident while remaining safe and working together with on-site representatives from Virginia Natural Gas.

Trainers from Virginia Natural Gas and its parent company, Southern Company Gas, provided the first responders with the fundamentals of natural gas and how to eliminate or control hazards frequently encountered during an emergency operation and, more importantly, ensure the safety of all personnel on scene and the surrounding community.

“Safety is our highest priority,” said Tommy Sipsy, chief investigator for Southern Company Gas. “Every year we provide education to thousands of first responders across our service territories, including here in Virginia. Knowing how to respond to a natural gas pipeline incident and being prepared to work together with the utility company is critical.”

Firefighters and other emergency personnel routinely respond to incidents involving natural gas, which could involve anything from a cut or damaged underground gas line to the report of an odor of gas in a home or building, explained Sipsy.

“While natural gas emergencies are relatively rare, emergency responders often arrive on scene before the utility company since they are typically the first to learn of an incident and begin efforts to secure the area,” said Sipsy. “This training is important because it provides them with valuable information on responding to possible natural gas incidents, and how to mitigate the situation.”

As part of the training, firefighters received instruction on company pipeline safety programs and damage prevention. They also were taught about situational awareness when working an incident, such as not parking over manholes, not operating doorbells and light switches, and to do a complete hazard assessment of the area.

Sipsy further explained that as part of the safety program, instructors teach firefighters and first responders how to assess a scenario, for example, to check the outside of a building for a possible gas leak before going in and making an internal attack on the flames.

“As a firefighter, it’s natural to want to attack the flames first, but they should be securing the gas first then extinguishing the fire,” he said.

The two-day training took place at the Norfolk Fire Rescue Training Center, and drew firefighters from Suffolk, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Hampton. Additional training is scheduled for first responders in Williamsburg as well as James City and York counties.

The goal is to instruct as many emergency personnel on how to respond in the event of an incident, and to remain safe and protect the community and human life.

“Anytime I get a call from someone who has gone through the training and they say they remembered what they learned, and most importantly that they made it home safely, then it is all worth it,” said Sipsy.