Essential Worker Faces Challenges When Responding To Gas Leak Emergencies

Apr 29, 2020
Originally published on April 29, 2020 7:27 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now another essential worker - a Michigan woman who's a wife, a mother of two boys and a fixer of problems. When the emergency calls come in, she heads out, no matter what's going on at home.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Duddy's fighting with me.

JESSICA SKOCZYLAS: Oh, he (inaudible). Well, hey, guys. Guys, we got to be really quiet, OK?

My name is Jessica Skoczylas. I work for a local utility company. I am a gas service utility worker. I respond to gas leak emergencies.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SKOCZYLAS: When it first started, we were all really scared because a person's home - it's - for us, it's, like, really scary because we know that's where the virus is going to be. So when we enter a home, it's basically walking into an invisible war zone. You really don't know, you know, where it's looming in the air. You don't know where it's sitting on a surface that you might have to touch. It's pretty scary.

Like yesterday, I responded to an emergency, and I was kind of, like, in this weird corner of the customer's basement. The customer was maintaining his distance at a nice level. But of course, where the leak was, where I wanted to show him, I literally had to get him close to kind of show him what exactly is leaking.

One experience that I had that was pretty crazy - so I responded to an emergency. I walked in. It was a young couple with a child. Right next to the child's bedroom is their utility area, which has their furnace. And of course, every time their furnace was kicking on, it was just spewing out natural gas. I had to turn it off, and I had to danger-tag it - is what we call it - to make it safe.

I walked back out to my truck to write up the tag. And as I'm walking back to the home, not only is the child screaming, but the mother is screaming. And the husband is consoling her. She literally, as I walked out to my truck, got a phone call that her father had just passed away from COVID-19.

And the child is now running towards me. And I'm a mom, you know? Any child that runs to you, you just kind of, like, want to grab and pick up and hold and tell him he's OK. But of course, right now, with everything that's going on, you don't want to touch anybody, even a pet.

So I'm just kind of, like - I just left a tag on the table, and I just said I was sorry. But I mean, what else can you say in that moment? It's hard 'cause, you know, I've had customers in the past who have some weird things going on, and they tell me their stories? And it's just in my nature. I hug them, you know? I sit there, and I listen to them because I know that makes them feel better. And I couldn't do anything.

I came in this business to work with gas, not - this is so weird. I don't know nothing about pandemics. I don't know nothing about viruses. The world is different now.

KELLY: Jessica Skoczylas - she's a gas service utility worker and member of the Utility Workers Union of America. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.