Safety Top of Mind as Union Gas Responds to Flooding Events

flooded area of Brantford

Nearly 2,200 homes in Brantford, Ont., and up to 4,900 residents were affected when rising water levels as a result of an ice jam upstream of Parkhill Dam broke away in the middle of the night and caused a surge of water downstream.

It was a natural disaster that made national news.

A few days later, Chatham-Kent was in the news as flooding hit that area as well.

Union Gas front-line workers (Utility Service Representatives) were in the midst of responses in both communities, along with fire, police, and power workers.

We spoke with Murray Costello, district manager for Waterloo/Brantford, to get his thoughts about Union Gas’ response to the flooding situation in his area.

Q: When did you realize that this was going to be an “all-hands-on-deck” event for your team?

Murray Costello: Our local utilities service manager, Al Duesling, was contacted by the Brantford Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) at approximately 6 a.m.  I was contacted by Al before he left his house. He arrived at the EOC and when he was told about the state of the river it became very apparent, very quickly, that this would be a significant event for all of our resources.

Q: Walk us through what the teams had to do right away as the waters were rising.

Al was advised that approximately 5,000 residents were going to be asked to leave their homes. The next step was to complete a triage of the areas expected to be impacted to the greatest degree.  Our next priority was to discontinue gas service to customers located in the most heavily affected areas prior to the water rising to levels that made it unsafe to do so. This equated to approximately 800 customers having service disconnected.

Aerial view of flooded area

Q: Does the team train for such events? What sort of things do you do to prepare for flooding or some other disaster?

The Brantford EOC is legislated to complete training each year. They conduct incident response exercises which include first responders and partner agencies.  Within Union Gas, we perform mock emergencies and tabletop discussions annually.  Our utility services and technician employees, they respond safely to a number of emergencies every year, both large scale and small scale.  While the flooding created a very non-traditional incident with many nuances, our training, experience and procedures provided solid guidance to our response actions.

Q: With so many Union Gas customers involved, and given the time of year, winter, your teams must have been motivated to help out their fellow community members.

Our employees know the importance of their work and our product. They always take great pride in responding to incidents and assisting others. Working safely, looking out for each other and following procedures, are always paramount, while responding and recovering from incidents.  Although this situation was very dynamic we were grateful from the overwhelming support provided by so many employees across our district and from other groups – including Workload Planning, Hamilton District, Engineering, Public Affairs and our head office EOC.

flood team standing together

Q: When you look back at the flooding event, what stands out for you?

  • Establishing a strong recovery a plan and setting response targets (95 per cent of customers had their service restored in short order).
  • The willingness and ownership of our workers to restore services, to keep themselves safe and watch out for each other while doing so.
  • The level of internal support and strong communication practices that we have ingrained in our emergency response efforts.
  • The organization of the Brantford EOC.
  • The strong communication between all partner agencies.
  • The co-ordination with our friends at Brantford Hydro to restore all services.

Q: When the flooding crisis in Brantford was over, the mayor of Brantford issued a thank you note to those responders who were on the front-lines. Union Gas was included in that note. How did that make your team feel?

It was a feeling of validation – a great sense of pride that we were able to co-ordinate with Brantford Hydro and safely restore service to 95 per cent of the affected customers in one day.

Our employees are very proud to serve the communities they live in and also to extend a hand to other communities in their times of need.

Operations employees across the company are well known for stepping up to offer assistance to fellow teams in times of emergency and crisis.

Doing the safe, right thing

Rob McKinnon, a Utility Services Representative based in Parry Sound, spends hours driving to and from customers’ homes. His story is one that clearly demonstrates the importance of staying focused and alert behind the wheel. Without his keen intuition and reflexes the outcome of his situation could have been very different.

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Front-line Workers Go Above and Beyond

For a Utility Services Representative (USR), every day brings a new and exciting challenge, but some days become memorable ones in an instant.  

USRs are frontline workers who safely perform meter work, pipeline maintenance, appliance inspections, and respond to natural gas emergencies for Union Gas. And through the stories below, you will see there can be much more to the role.  

The following incidents are not in the USR job description. However, these individuals are highly trained and ready to spring into action, no matter the circumstance. They are the people you want to have around in an emergency.

“All of these situations had the potential to turn bad. But the quick-thinking and highly trained USRs jumped in and ensured that the consequences were not disastrous,” said Mike Shannon, vice president of Distribution Operations at Union Gas.

“I’m proud of the work all of our USRs do. They are the face of Union Gas. They take care of our customers and the public. USRs keep our infrastructure running smoothly and do so safely,”

– Mike Shannon

Alerting Homeowners to Fire

It was 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 11, and Tom Daymond and Scott Newton were on their way to their first call of the day when they saw something that wasn’t right.

The two Woodstock, Ont.-based USRs noticed a garage engulfed in flames, and there were no emergency vehicles on site. Without hesitation, both men jumped out of their vehicle and ran to the house. They could hear dogs barking and started pounding on doors to alert the homeowners. Thanks to Tom’s and Scott’s efforts, a couple safely escaped the home, along with their dogs.

USRs John Haskins and Jamie Hiusser of Oakville also went above and beyond their roles.

They had just arrived at a job site when they noticed smoke and flames coming out of a garage next door. Rushing over to the scene, the pair noticed a young woman in distress. They got her to safety. After calling 911, they grabbed their fire extinguishers and attempted to put out the fire.

There was only minor damage to the garage thanks to John’s and Jamie’s efforts.

Saving choking man

Marc Mills and Al Inglis, USRs in Hamilton, were getting their early morning coffee at a McDonald’s restaurant when they stepped into action.

After placing their order, Mills and Inglis noticed an elderly gentleman choking. 

Al and Marc went over to the gentleman. Al positioned him upright and attempted abdominal thrusts. After a couple of attempts, Al was able to get the man to release the obstruction.

The man sustained minimal injuries. Since then, the pair has been in contact with close friends of the elderly gentleman who report that he had no ill effects from the incident.