What brought you to the natural gas industry nearly 25 years ago?
I was looking to settle down, get married and start a family, so I was searching for a career that offered both security and opportunity. I was fortunate to be hired by the local utility company. My time there afforded me many opportunities and experiences. In field operations, I began as a meter reader, worked as a first responder, and spent time in the construction and maintenance department. On the management side, I worked primarily in the training and qualification part of the business, in a variety of roles, all of which helped form the person I am today.
Can you tell us about the gas ignition incident in 2001 and its impact on your career?
While making repairs on a gas leak, the gas ignited. I was caught in the fire for about 10 seconds. Fortunately, I was wearing my personal protective equipment, which consisted of a flash suit, supplied air respirator, head sock and goggles. This equipment and the procedures for working around live gas were new to our work group, and looking back, the reality is simple: I survived because of the PPE I wore that day, but I was not mentally prepared for the ignition. This is what motivates me and, in essence, is at the heart of every training session I conduct.
Can you elaborate a bit more on being mentally unprepared on the job that day?
Sure. I didn't believe this ignition would happen, so I didn't take the steps to prepare myself for the unexpected. This happens at times with natural gas field employees. You let your guard down, you become complacent or distracted, and in a blink of an eye it can happen. I was fortunate because my inattention didn't cost me, but others in the industry haven't been as fortunate. When I share my story during training sessions, there are usually others who share similar stories or recount near misses. Together we hope these stories can help prevent similar events in the future. We'll never know for sure, but listening to those who have attended the session, I believe we have a real impact.
Why did you want to work for AEGIS?
AEGIS offers an opportunity that is unparalleled in the natural gas industry. But the opportunity aside, what's most important is that we all have a common mission, which is to promote the number one priority of protecting life. This is my passion, and I share this with my fellow AEGIS Loss Control professionals.
Also, by supporting the AEGIS membership, I am essentially supporting the natural gas industry, because the membership accounts for the vast majority of natural gas operators in the United States and Canada. As a mutual, the partnership between AEGIS and its members is unique, and having the opportunity to support our members by supplementing their in-house training and qualification programs with the AEGIS Gas Operator Training Program was an opportunity I couldn't turn down.
Let's discuss the AEGIS Gas Operator Training Program and how you work with the AEGIS membership.
The AEGIS Gas Operator Training Program supplements the existing training programs at member companies. It's important to point out that we're not in competition with member company in-house training and qualification departments ― that we exist to supplement and support those departments. In fact, based on my previous experience overseeing training and qualification, I understand the positive impact a third party can have with an employee base, especially when the third party is working with the same playbook as the member company.
We customize and design our programs to meet the needs of the member by offering to embed specific company policies and procedures into our session. This helps reinforce member company policies and procedures. Our ability to customize a training session is what makes each one unique. Essentially, it's what makes each session an AEGIS Focused Service engagement, which are the services we custom tailor to meet the needs of a member.
What makes the AEGIS Gas Operator Training Program different than other training programs?
I believe it's the deep knowledge AEGIS has gained and the resources it has built since the company was founded in 1975. One particularly valuable resource is our Review of Major Liability Loss (RMLL) case files, which are basically the heart and soul of our training programs. The RMLL case files are actual cases, so the focus is on what really happened instead of what might happen, and I think this brings a level of credibility to the session. Depending on what the member company has requested, I'll research and embed certain cases that help drive home the point the member wants to make. At times, I'll use these cases for breakout sessions, where I'll remove the lessons learned and settlement of the case, and ask each group to discuss and create their own lessons learned. Then we compare their findings with the AEGIS findings. Most importantly, what happens is that each group applies their own policies and procedures to the case. This is invaluable for an instructor ― to see the students applying what they've learned.
How did the global pandemic impact the AEGIS Gas Operator Training Program?
It was and is a game changer. I would argue that of all the products and services offered by AEGIS Loss Control, the Gas Operator Training Program has felt the greatest impact. First, most of our services were put on hold, because our members were focusing, and rightly so, on the safety and well-being of their employees and customers. In addition, the Gas Operator Training Program is delivered in person at member company locations, and it became apparent early on that the pandemic was going to require us to rethink or reimagine how we deliver products and services to the membership. In the early stages of the pandemic, like we did with all our other products and services, we transitioned from an in-person format to a virtual format. The content and our ability to customize the training sessions, however, remained unchanged. There's no question that the pandemic has changed how we deliver our training, but it's also encouraged us to develop new remote training capabilities that can be useful in the future.
If you had to describe some of the positives of delivering training virtually, what would they be?
First of all, we prefer to deliver the Gas Operator Training Program in person because it's more conducive to group interaction, and I believe group interaction is an incredible learning tool. But that being said, I must admit there are several positives to conducting the Gas Operator Training Program virtually.
From a logistics standpoint, it's easier. Our members don't need to coordinate travel for employees spread across their footprint, schedule conference rooms or auditoriums, worry about the audio and visual setup for the presenter, and arrange for snacks and lunches for those attending. In addition, there are no limitations on how many employees can attend a session, and the sessions can be easily recorded through the virtual platform we use. As a result, more people are attending our training sessions than ever before. Also, since I haven't been traveling to member locations, my travel expenses have been eliminated, which means there's no cost to the member for the training program.
The other thing is that many people in the industry are now accustomed to virtual platforms for conferences, company meetings and training. Many of us in the training world knew that virtual platforms would become a major factor in the future, but we believed it would take some time to happen. The pandemic changed all that. As a result, AEGIS and our members have moved certain aspects of the training curriculum to the virtual world. I don't believe the virtual format will go away when the pandemic fades. Retaining virtual platforms makes sense when you understand that the younger generations entering our workforce have been receiving information virtually for some time. I see this as a natural evolution.
So as a follow-up to the advantages for members, what do you see as some of the positives of providing the Gas Operator Training Program virtually?
Great question. There are several advantages from where I sit. Again, no travel means we aren't passing on those costs to the member, so our virtual training is provided at no cost. And because I'm not traveling, I have more time for our members than ever before. For example, one morning last week, I provided annual refresher training for a member in New York for three hours. Later that same morning, I sat in on a member's regional safety meeting in Missouri, and then I conducted a new employee presentation for a member in Alabama. All before lunch. The virtual opportunities to support our membership are more numerous than many of us believed possible.
Has the pandemic created other opportunities that the AEGIS membership should be aware of?
Definitely. First of all, the AEGIS Gas Operator Training Program still provides the same type of training, covering the same topics, as it did before the pandemic. These programs have been condensed to cover the same material in less time due to the change in delivery method. What's emerging or, should I say, what we are reimagining is how our products and services can assist our members. For example, prior to the pandemic, I never imagined having the time to be part of a member's 10-minute weekly safety meeting, to participate on another's safety committee, and to provide smaller segments of our training for an apprentice program. But now that's all possible. This is very exciting. Now, with a virtual invitation from members, we can become even more involved in training and operations. Some of our members are realizing this potential and are engaging our programs like never before. My hope is that all of our members consider this virtual resource for their organization as well.
What are you most proud of at AEGIS?
That at the end of the day, through the combined efforts of all AEGIS Loss Control professionals, we actually make a difference with member company employees by communicating the number one priority in all situations, which is to protect life. That's what I'm most proud of, and that's what I truly believe.