Veteran Atmos Energy employees helping firefighters

November 02, 2004|JOHN T. DAVIS

Between the two of them, Atmos Energy employees Andy Bryant and Stephone Wilkinson have 59 years of experience in the gas utility business, and sharing that wealth of experience with young firefighters is something both men feel strongly about.

"It's a free service that we offer to fire departments that request it," Bryant said of a training course taught by the two veteran gas company employees. "It's something that we thoroughly enjoy doing. We just love to do it.

"If I could save just one person's life ... If a year from now, somebody remembers something they learned in class and can save a life, I'm happy. That's what it's all about."

To make their class for firefighters more effective, Bryant and Wilkinson, with the support of Larry Reynolds, Danville area supervisor for Atmos, have put together a road show of gas utility equipment that brings the "do's and don'ts" of controlling natural gas to life for firefighters.


They have a packed a small trailer with old and new gas lines of different sizes, various kinds of cutoff valves, above-ground gas-line markers and even a couple of gas meters, one that was damaged when it was hit by a car.

Teaching what to do when first on the scene

It's important that firefighters know what to do and not to do in an emergency situation involving natural gas service, because they are usually the first ones on the scene. Although Atmos has an emergency telephone number, most residents call 911 first and firefighters are dispatched.

The show-and-tell course put together by Bryant and Wilkinson teaches young firefighters "what they can do before they (gas company technicians) get to the scene," said Paul McCrystal, deputy chief in charge of training for Danville Fire Department, where the course was offered recently. The course gives them a "good knowledge of what they can handle and what they can't."

Fire Chief Mike Thomas said the training is particularly valuable for the department's young officers. "They haven't seen it happen," Thomas said, speaking of a natural gas-related emergency. "We want to develop young firefighters into long-term reliable ones."

Thomas described the training session recently conducted for his department as a "college-level course in gas home delivery service."

The course covers "anything that anybody would come in contact with," he said.

With the help of a trailer full of equipment, Wilkinson, who has been with the company for 24 years, and Bryant, who has 35 years of experience, can pass along the knowledge they've accumulated over the years.

A lot of information to pass along

And there's a lot more to pass along than a layman might think:

The fact that gas lines have come in a wide variety of sizes, colors and materials over the years, and it's not always so easy to tell them apart from another kind of utility line. Or the fact that pouring water on a blazing gas meter might not be the best thing for firefighters to do: Extinguishing the fire might lead to an explosion later on if the gas continues to leak out. And even something simple like the danger of ringing a doorbell when arriving at a home where a resident thinks they have a gas leak.

Wilkinson said he always tells the "young guys" that when they answer a call about a gas leak, "don't ring the doorbell" because the amount of static electricity generated by a ringing doorbell, a ringing telephone or a resident flipping a light switch can ignite a house full of gas.

Reynolds said the company has been looking for a way for a long time to improve programs for fire departments, not just for Danville but for other departments in the Atmos service area.

"Andy and Stephone have a lot of experience," Reynolds said. "These guys are the experts. They (firefighters) are not going to know what years and years of experience have taught them unless they bring it to them."

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