Delivering propane in extreme weather is serious business

February 8, 2019 By     0 Comments

The polar vortex’s reappearance in the United States – who can forget its impact on regional propane supply and distribution during the 2013-14 winter? – was the hot topic on Cleveland talk radio in late January.

Propane delivery photo by Joe McCarthy

Photo by Joe McCarthy

Sub-zero temperatures and wind chills hovering around 20 to 30 below – less severe compared to locations west of our office – brought the conversation to the men and women who make a living by working outdoors.

“God bless the trades,” one caller said. “I take my hat off to ’em.”

Several hours earlier, I was thinking about the challenging nature of the propane business, especially after learning of the jaw-dropping conditions in polar-vortex-impacted places like Chicago, Minneapolis and the Dakotas.

The polar vortex, which sends extremely cold air from the North Pole down into the U.S., brought record-low temperatures and wind chills to much of the Midwest.

“Twenty below – we can function at that; 30 below, it’s pretty difficult,” says Jerry Brick, a partner at North Star Energy in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where the temperature was about minus 30 after the sun rose on Jan. 30. “Things start freezing up on us.”

Brick’s mechanics were busy tending to problematic air lines on his transport trucks. But once the industry’s trucks get rolling, delivery personnel find themselves in winter’s unpredictable elements on a daily basis – a process that always impresses and amazes.

“We’ve got good employees and folks in the industry,” Brick says. “They realize they’re working with a product that’s a necessity and they’re out there delivering it.”

But when they do so in January-like conditions, preparation and education are a must. At Linden’s Propane, an Energy Distribution Partners company in Wellington, Ohio, General Manager Frank Edwards held a safety meeting during the temperature drop to review the company’s plan of attack.

“We’re educating them on what the elements can do to you and how quickly it can happen,” he says.

Drivers are supplied with foot warmers and hand warmers; ski masks to help block the frigid air; arctic gloves and insulated, water-proof boots; and water and snacks.

“It’s very tough on your body – and mentally,” says Edwards, noting how dehydration, even in cold temperatures, is a concern.

Brick adds, “It’s brutal. You’ve got to cover up and make sure you are dressed properly. It only takes a couple of minutes out there and you can get frostbite.”

Linden’s Propane doubled up on drivers in each truck during the polar vortex – not only taking care of customers but also each other when it’s cold, icy and just plain nasty.

Safety is always top of mind.

“We monitor their trucks even more so now,” Edwards says. “If the truck stops for too long, we’re calling and asking ‘What’s going on?’ We’re saying, ‘Text me and let me know when you get there.’ It’s all about communication.”

Deliveries are prioritized during the bitter-cold winter days to reach those most in need, including the elderly, hospitals and temporary heating customers, Edwards says. In some cases, the company will check on some of its older customers, even if it’s not delivering to them – certainly a family-like feel of this industry not always seen in other lines of work.

Of course, the tough conditions can sometimes slow deliveries.

“It’s dangerous to be out in the cold like this and trying to maneuver through the traffic and through the snow, but guys are making the deliveries,” Brick says.

It is with the 2019 polar vortex that we praise the men and women of the propane industry whose jobs call for working on the front lines, braving whatever weather is thrown at them to keep the gallons flowing and their customers warm.

This article is tagged with and posted in Blue Flame Blog, Current Issue

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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