NW Natural center includes 18 mock-up structures, streets and utilities

by: TIMES PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - A Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue firefighter sprays water on an above-ground service regulator during a training exercise at Training Town, which is part of NW Natural's Sherwood Operations and Training Center.A custom-made mock-up of a street with homes is giving NW Natural another tool to help employees troubleshoot problems as well as deal with natural gas emergencies.

And along the way, other agencies are benefiting as well.

On Friday, NW Natural unveiled Training Town, a small facsimile of a street that includes homes, streets and alleyways along with functioning underground natural gas lines, house meters and a variety of gas appliances inside some of the structures.

The first-of-its-kind training facility in the Northwest, the $1.7 million Training Town is located on 19 acres on Cipole Road in Sherwood, part of NW Natural’s Sherwood Operations and Training Center.

Participating in the Friday event were employees of Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, the Sherwood Police Department and NW Natural, agencies that also sponsored the event along with the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce.

“This is fantastic,” Sherwood Mayor Bill Middleton said of Training Town. “This is what we want in town.”

In opening comments, Gregg Kantor, president and CEO of NW Natural, said his company tried to make sure employees have the skills and training to do their jobs effectively and safely.

“So for those reasons and more, we wanted to build a facility to provide our field employees with realistic, scenario-based training,” he said.

Grant Yoshihara, NW Natural vice president of utility operations, said the idea for the town came five years ago when the company saw that scenario-based facilities were being built by other utility TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kurt Oertel and Foo Maat, field operation technical trainers with NW Natural, turn off the gas during a training exercise at Training Town, part of the company's Sherwood Operations and Training Center.

In addition, the training facility includes a “practice field” complete with simulated excavations, a high-angle tower and underground pipes, said Yoshihara.

“This is incredible,” Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue Chief Mike Duyck later said of the new facility. He said firefighters have already trained at the site during the evening hours, noting that while major gas leaks are rare types of emergencies, they are unique in nature.

The chief said although fire district has a street scenario at its regional training center on Tonquin Road, Training Town has more extensive props and is more detailed.

Much of Friday’s event included a demonstration of how crews work together when it comes to dealing with a natural gas emergency. That included a scenario where a minivan struck a natural gas pipe, sending gas spewing out an elevated covered pipe box located next to a home. (For the purposes of the demonstration, the “gas” was only compressed air.)

The result was a response from Sherwood police, NW Natural employees and TVF&R firefighters. After determining it was natural gas, police cordoned off the area with yellow police tape and emergency crews carried off the driver of the vehicle to a waiting gurney as NW Natural employees determined where the gas was leaking from and worked to fix the leak. Residents were warned and evacuated as well. All the while, a firefighter kept a steady spray of water on the leaking box.

At the same time Training Town was unveiled, NW Natural’s Sherwood Operations and Training Center officials announced the company has added two new buildings to the site. One, which is still under construction, will serve employees with classrooms and labs. The entire facility will soon have as many as 150 employees working at the center in areas of training, vehicle maintenance, fabrication, repair, field operations, engineering and a materials warehouse.

The center also will serve as a backup if a natural disaster were to hit NW Natural’s downtown Portland headquarters.

Bill Rehse, a training supervisor for field operations, said he was pleased with the morning activities in the new “town” that includes 18 mock-up structures.

“We wanted it to look like a real neighborhood,” said Rehse.

That includes not only homes but also several multi-family units that replicate apartment dwellings.

“The idea is we wanted to have that shared-wall feel,” said Rehse, who pointed out he was pleased the facility is located in Sherwood. “I think it’s going to be a great relationship.”by: TIMES PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - Sherwood Police rope-off onlookers from danger during a training exercise at NW Natural's new Training Town.

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