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Virginia Natural Gas works with first responders to keep themselves and community safe

NORFOLK, Va. – Feb. 13, 2020 – Communicate, communicate, communicate.

That simple phrase was used repeatedly when more than 400 first responders from across Hampton Roads recently received training on how to properly respond to a natural gas pipeline incident while remaining safe and working together with on-site representatives from Virginia Natural Gas.

Trainers from Virginia Natural Gas and its parent company, Southern Company Gas, provided the first responders with the fundamentals of natural gas and how to eliminate or control hazards frequently encountered during an emergency operation and, more importantly, ensure the safety of all personnel on scene and the surrounding community.

“Safety is our highest priority,” said Tommy Sipsy, Chief Investigator for Southern Company Gas. “Every year we provide education to thousands of first responders across our service territories, including here in Virginia. Knowing how to respond to a natural gas pipeline incident and being prepared to work together with the utility company is critical.”

Firefighters and other emergency personnel routinely respond to incidents involving natural gas, which could involve anything from a cut or damaged underground gas line to the report of an odor of gas in a home or building, explained Sipsy.

“While natural gas emergencies are relatively rare, emergency responders often arrive on scene before the utility company since they are typically the first to learn of an incident and begin efforts to secure the area,” said Sipsy. “This training is important because it provides them with valuable information on responding to possible natural gas incidents, and how to mitigate the situation.”

As part of the training, firefighters received instruction on company pipeline safety programs and damage prevention. They also were taught about situational awareness when working an incident, such as not parking over manholes, not operating doorbells and light switches, and to do a complete hazard assessment of the area.

Sipsy further explained that as part of the safety program, instructors teach firefighters and first responders how to assess a scenario, for example, to check the outside of a building for a possible gas leak before going in and making an internal attack on the flames.

“As a firefighter, it’s natural to want to attack the flames first, but they should be securing the gas first then extinguishing the fire,” he said.

And Sipsy knows what he is talking about. Not only has he been advising the safety department at Southern Company Gas on awareness and safety efforts for the last 35 years, he has also served as a volunteer firefighter in Georgia for the last seven years.

“It’s a natural reaction,” added Sipsy. “The first thing we want is for them to determine if they really need to enter a structure. We train them to evacuate, ventilate and then work with a representative from the gas company to assess the situation.”

The two-day training took place at the Norfolk Fire Rescue Training Center, and drew firefighters from Hampton, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Suffolk and Chesapeake. Additional training is scheduled for first responders in Williamsburg as well as James City and York counties.

The goal is to instruct as many emergency personnel on how to respond in the event of an incident, and to remain safe and protect the community and human life.

“Anytime I get a call from someone who has gone through the training and they say they remembered what they learned, and most importantly that they made it home safely, then it is all worth it,” added Sipsy.

Robert Burton, acting deputy Chief of the Norfolk Fire-Rescue agreed with Sipsy, adding that firefighters and other emergency personnel work hard every day to ensure the safety of the community they serve. This training, he said, will ensure they have the knowledge necessary to protect themselves and residents when responding to an emergency.

“This training is very educational and informative for our crews on how to deal with these situations,” said Burton. “Because of it, they will be able to increase communications with VNG, be able to tap into expert knowledge on the subject of natural gas, and most importantly, know how to keep themselves, their fire company and the public safe.”


Virginia Natural Gas is one of four natural gas distribution companies of Southern Company Gas, a wholly owned subsidiary of Southern Company (NYSE: SO). Virginia Natural Gas provides natural gas service to nearly 300,000 customers in southeast Virginia and has been recognized as one of the safest, most reliable and customer-focused natural gas service providers. Consistently ranked in the top quartile for customer satisfaction by J.D. Power and Associates, the company has also been recognized by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and the Virginia Oil and Gas Association for its safety, community outreach and educational programs, and was named Local Distribution Company for three consecutive years. Virginia Natural Gas has been ranked by its business customers as being one of the most Trusted Business Partners in the utility industry according to Cogent Reports, and as one of the Top Workplaces in Hampton Roads by Inside Business. For more information, visit and connect with the company on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Southern Company Gas is a wholly owned subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company (NYSE:SO), America’s premier energy company. Southern Company Gas serves approximately 4.2 million natural gas utility customers through its regulated distribution companies in four states and approximately 700,000 retail customers through its companies that market natural gas. Other nonutility businesses include investments in interstate pipelines, asset management for natural gas wholesale customers and ownership and operation of natural gas storage facilities. For more information, visit

Media Contact: Rick DelaHaya o: 757.616.7510 | c: 757.323.7366 |