Sandra Sanchez, a First Responder at New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG), a gas distribution company that serves over half a million customers in New Jersey, is passionate about her work. She is a diligent and dedicated employee, role model, and advocate for more women to consider careers in the natural gas industry. Sandra has been in her current role since October of 2019 and has worked with NJNG since 2011.
We sat down to learn from Sandra about the work she does and what fueled her decision to pursue a career in energy.
How did you choose a career in energy?
I am inquisitive by nature. I like to understand how things work. At some point, I had a lot of questions about natural gas and wanted to learn more about how it operates. What better way to learn, then to get involved with something professionally?
I started my career as Meter Reader and learned many of the fundamentals of the industry while working in that role for four years. As I had hoped, I really enjoyed learning about natural gas operations and I loved the work itself. I am really grateful I took that first step as my natural gas career has offered a good challenge. I have tested my own strength and abilities and learned how strong I am physically, mentally, and emotionally.
How has your career progressed?
Once I learned the basics of the industry, I decided I wanted to be a Gas Mechanic, a person who is part of a team responding to emergency calls and fixing broken mains and services. I spent four years preparing for that job. I am proud to say that I am only the second woman at NJNG over the past 20 years to graduate and serve as a Gas Mechanic. Women haven’t always seen themselves in certain jobs traditionally held by men, and I am proud to be part of that change to demonstrate the outstanding opportunities that exist in the natural gas workforce for women.
In fact, one of the things that surprises people most is that I am a woman. I get a lot of customers whose first impression is to say: “Yay, she’s a female!” I’ve been complemented for doing what I do because many people are used to seeing men in this position, and to see me do the same job just blows their mind. I am living proof that if you are willing to train and work hard, equal opportunities exist to do job in the field.
I valued my experience as a Gas Mechanic. In that role, like so many in this field, you really need to love the outdoors and enjoy working with tools, not just a set of hand tools, but the big heavy-duty kind like jackhammers and air drills. These tools, among many others, are part of your everyday “office supplies.” You learn so much, not only in the classroom, but in the field where you do everything from rebuilding a meter set to suiting up and digging as fast as you can to find a leak and make it safe. All this knowledge as a Gas Mechanic helped prepare me for the job I have now – a First Responder – and will serve as a foundation for other positions I may consider in the future. Jobs in this field really are inter-connected and serve as stepping-stones to whatever’s next. NJNG, like others in this industry, is really committed to training and giving us access to a true career path.
What do you do as a First Responder?
I respond to all emergency calls referred to me from the dispatch center. These calls can be about any number of things – inside or outside leak investigations, meter turn on/turn offs, changing a regulator or meter, leak surveys, atmospheric corrosion work if needed, violation inspections, use of leak detection equipment, relight furnace pilots, water heaters and fireplaces, or a host of other things! As you might imagine by this list, no two days are the same and every day brings new challenges to address!
What do you like best about your job?
The thing I like best about my job is that I get to work on my own and be the one to handle investigations. Earlier in my career, when I had so much to learn, I was guided and mentored by those with experience. Now, that’s me! I’m the one in charge, with all the decision making. It’s been rewarding to see how my career journey has progressed.
What kinds of skills are required for your job?
We work in a lifeline service industry. People count on us for safe, reliable service. To work in any technical field job in this industry, you must have the necessary knowledge and experience to do the job; be decisive with decision-making; be willing to work in any kind of weather; be skilled at working with tools; and know how to interact with customers. NJNG has helped me learn all of these things.
What is your favorite work-related memory?
My favorite on-the-job experience was getting a call for a broken service. I was a Gas Mechanic at the time and there were firefighters and police on-site. The street was closed, and everyone was counting on us to make it safe. I got in the hole and started to dig so fast. Once I was able to stop the gas and make it safe, all the firefighters were clapping. That moment was an awesome feeling, knowing I had helped families and people in my community.
What’s next for you in your career path?
Right now, I’m happy in my role as a First Responder. This is where I want to be and what I want to do. Over the past 10 years working in the field, I feel that I have done everything it takes to be successful at my job, and I can see staying in this position until I retire.