Posted on November 27, 2013

From Pilot Lights to Checking Furnaces, PG&E Gas Workers On Duty During Holiday Week

By David Kligman

CONCORD — Two days before Thanksgiving, PG&E gas service representative Randy Lassus made the rounds in Contra Costa County in his white work truck, mostly relighting furnace pilot lights.

Concord gas service representative Randy Lassus gets warm air flowing a wall heater in customer Najma Bhutto's apartment. (Photos by David Kligman.)

When warm air began to flow from Najma Bhutto’s wall heater throughout her small Concord apartment, the PG&E customer smiled and told Lassus how appreciative she was.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “It has been freezing. You saved my life.”

Lassus reminded her to schedule PG&E to inspect the heater before the onset of cold weather next year.

His visit was just one of the 130 service calls PG&E made Tuesday (Nov. 26) throughout Contra Costa County.

It’s a holiday week, but PG&E works around the clock every day of the year to ensure customers receive safe and reliable gas service. There are about 700 gas service representatives throughout PG&E’s system. Lassus is one of 25 of the representatives based out of Concord serving 19 cities in and around Contra Costa County. On Thanksgiving Day, four Concord-based gas service representatives will be working.

Randy Lasso is one of PG&E's 700 gas service representatives. Most of his calls this time of year involve pilot relights and safety checks of appliances.

Most of the calls this time of year are pilot relights and safety checks of fireplaces, stoves, water heaters and other appliances. Crews also are busy establishing gas service for new residents, responding to construction crews that strike gas lines, investigating gas leaks and reports of high or low gas pressure.

Concord gas supervisor Mark Embree said his team is performing better than ever by relying on out-of-area gas service representatives who aren’t as busy.

“We’re doing a better job of getting to customers in a timely manner,” he said.

Not surprisingly, many calls happen as customers begin preparing turkey feasts. Gas service representative Augie Proia said a few years ago he responded to 16 calls in one day from customers whose stoves weren’t working.

“They don’t bake all year until Thanksgiving,” he said. “It’s usually Wednesday when they find out and then it’s a catastrophe. So they call PG&E and usually we can help them.”

On Lassus’ third call on Tuesday, he wasn’t able to get the customer’s 40-year-old forced air furnace running. But there was a silver lining — and it was a big one — as he discovered two 5-inch cracks and an imminent carbon monoxide hazard. He said it was the most damaged furnace he had seen the past five years.

The customer wasn’t surprised because the furnace was so old. Lassus disconnected the furnace and capped the natural gas to remove any threat of deadly carbon monoxide.

He then gave the customer advice for buying a new furnace, suggesting that she get multiple bids to save money and that she consider simple models that are less costly to repair, especially for a city like Concord where it’s warm much of the year. And he asked her to call PG&E when she has a new furnace to perform a safety inspection and make sure it’s installed correctly.

“Thank you,” she said. “That makes me feel so much better.”

Lassus later explained that he feels obligated to do all he can to help customers.

“You disconnect their furnace and you tell them it’s safe,” he said. “I like to give them some direction so they feel equipped to deal with how to buy a new furnace.”

Lassus, who has worked for PG&E for nearly 35 years, said he loves meeting customers.

“Most of the time we’re the only face-to-face contact they have with PG&E,” he said. “If you don’t like working with people you don’t like this job.”

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