With more than 50 years’ experience in the industry, emergency gas engineer Cliff Whitfield can pretty much say he’s seen it all.
But if there’s one thing that astonishes him every time he gets to a property where a potential gas escape has been reported it’s this: lit decorative candles.
“You wouldn’t believe how many times it happens,” says Cliff. “If there’s even a hint of gas, we advise no naked flames, but then you turn up and you see candles still lit.”
During Gas Safety Week (16 to 22 September), local gas emergency service Cadent is supporting a nationwide campaign to educate customers and keep people safe in their homes.
Cliff is one of the team of Cadent emergency engineers in North West England who are on hand day and night, every day of the year, to respond – within an hour – to any reported gas emergency.
You'll find lots of helpful gas safety advice on this special page of our website.
If you ever suspect a gas escape, or carbon monoxide, ring the national gas emergency number 0800 111 999* immediately. This number is available 24 hours, 365 days a year.
Cliff, 67, from Haydock, works in a patch that covers Wigan, Leigh and surrounding areas.
As he bows out and into retirement, he is keen to gift Cadent his official ‘Deed of Apprenticeship’ – the document signed, and officially sealed, on his 16th
birthday in 1968. The gas network intends to ensure it has pride of place on display, as an amazing piece of its history.
"Where I grew up, there were two options if you wanted a job; the glass industry or going down the pits,” said Cliff.
“At school we had a visitor from the North West Gas Board and after completing some tests I was invited to an interview with my best friend before we were both offered apprenticeships.
“I signed my Deed of Apprenticeship on my 16th
birthday in front of my parents and it was a really proud moment for all of us.
“I used to take my tools and get on the bus to go to work. In the seventies when I was working for British Gas, they started to provide vans, and I took the opportunity to have driving lessons and eventually pass my test so I could have my own van too.
“When you look back, a lot has changed in the industry around us but you can see patterns. I remember working at the time when we were swapping appliances to support the move from towns gas to natural gas and now we have examples like HyDeploy
[North West projects to use hydrogen to heat our homes] where we’re looking at more sustainable solutions – I think we’ll always have a role to play in supporting customers and keeping them safe, it just evolves.
Cliff mentioned some advice two engineers gave him when he was still at school which has shaped his most memorable moment: “When I was younger I knew two engineers who worked for the Gas Board and they always told me it was a good job, I still feel like that rings true today.
"Over the course of my career I’ve seen others join the industry and start, as I did, before moving up through the business, some even becoming my manager. It’s great to know that I’m sharing my knowledge and experiences to help the next generation build the industry that has been my career for all this time.”
Cadent recruits around 50 new apprentices every year. Take a look at this page
if you want to learn more about our apprenticeship schemes.
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