Safety-conscious CHS division battles nature’s elements

January 6, 2012 By    

Safety is the essence of every successful propane operation, but you get the feeling that CHS Propane in Kalispell, Mont., is especially attentive to the process. Perhaps that’s because, facing the challenging delivery conditions 3,000 feet and above in elevation, there is little choice.

It’s not unusual for drivers to chain truck tires eight to 10 times daily – using up to three sets per truck each winter – to gain extra traction and traverse snowy and icy terrain.

“A lot of times the main highways are dry and clear, but then off-highway roads are snow packed and icy, and we need to chain up the trucks with tire chains in order to make the deliveries,” says Dan Skalsky, propane department supervisor. “We’ve been fortunate that we haven’t had any lost trucks because of negligence or slippery conditions. We have a good select crew of drivers who are very safety conscious, which is so important in today’s business.”

The company’s 2,600 mostly residential customer tanks are located across a broadly expanded service area of northwest Montana, sandwiched between high mountains to the east and west, in the heart of the Rockies. Kalispell is about an hour south of the Canadian border, 30 minutes west of Glacier National Park, 15 minutes north of Flathead Lake and is encompassed by national forests.

“The biggest thing is mountain driving,” Skalsky says. “We have a safety meeting every week. We have a lot of black ice, so we talk about that and inspections. We don’t skip anything. There are so many things we have when we go into the back country. We take satellite phones because there is no cell service available, emergency equipment and extra clothes.”

CHS Propane in Kalispell – an operating division of national cooperative CHS Inc. – runs four bobtails and two service trucks. One service truck is a new Iowa Mold Tooling Co. Inc. (IMT) Dominator propane truck body and IMT 3820 hydraulic telescopic crane – an integrated package designed for the propane industry.

Mick Loughlin, CHS Propane’s head of service in Kalispell, lobbied Skalsky for the new package after first seeing it at the 2009 Western Propane Trade Show and Convention in Reno, Nev. Loughlin was seeking an improved truck with a durable body, increased payload capacity and a hydraulic telescopic crane providing greater reach and capacity. IMT fulfilled those requests, and the company took delivery of the truck last spring.

Loughlin says the truck makes installation and maintenance jobs easier and safer, especially when battling Montana’s natural impediments, such as the mountain terrain, trees, water, snow – and even wildfires.

TEAM: Dan Skalsky, propane department supervisor; Mick Loughlin, head of service
LOCATION: Kalispell, Mont.
FOUNDED: Kalispell propane department in 1991; CHS Inc. roots established in 1929
EMPLOYEES: 5-6 in propane department
CUSTOMERS: About 2,600
ONLINE: www.propane.chskalispell.com

Brian Richesson

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

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