About two years ago, the Kalamazoo Grassroots Team set out on a mission to create a simulator for co-workers who work with live, sometimes blowing natural gas.

Their goal was to make sure Gas Distribution employees, who in certain circumstances suit up in a fire suit and use a respirator, felt comfortable before confronting the real-life scenario on a job. This simulator provides a real-life feeling but in a safe, controlled environment using air instead of gas. There is no odorant added to simulate the gas smell, but the sound of the blowing air makes it very real.

After months of planning to ensure it met both union and management specifications, the patience of the team with the help from Learning and Development were able to bring the idea to fruition. The debut of the blowing gas simulator was installed, and training implemented this past summer.

“We are proud to come up with something that will keep our gas workers safe for generations to come,” said Kent Smith, a gas linesworker in the Gas Distribution department. “It took a lot of hard work and dedication, and it’s one of our team’s greatest accomplishments. To watch it grow from the ground floor into what the training is today is really something special.”

Since installing the simulator, Learning and Development has taken it a step further. They saw a need to add other real- life scenarios and have added another 50 feet of plastic pipe and around 12 new scenarios. Some of the activities include installing repair fittings, installing service tee’s and squeezing gas pipe to stop the flow of gas (air).

“Pulling up to a job with gas blowing definitely gives some people a feeling of nervousness. These simulations will help prepare co-workers for what it would be like in a real life, sometimes dangerous situation only in a safe, controlled environment.” Said Lisa Gross, a Senior Learning and Development Lead. “All the credit goes to the Kalamazoo Grassroots Team for getting this innovative project going. Their perseverance will pay off for future natural gas co-workers.”

Kent added that the endeavor shows what can be accomplished when union and management work together.

“We have a culture that is 100 percent behind keeping everyone safe in our company,” Kent said. “And I hope we find more creative ways to keep all of us safe. Our goal every day should be 100 percent of us going home to our families and loved ones once our shifts are over.”