VALHALLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — As winter approaches and natural gas use soars, first responders in Westchester County will be better equipped to handle gas emergencies.

Everything from simple leaks to full-blown fires.

With the push of a button, there is a wall of flames. It’s controlled danger that adds an element of realism to the county’s new gas operations training facility.

“Gas emergency is a serious matter. It involves having technical skill to know what to do, and do it quickly and efficiently in order to save property and to save lives,” Westchester County Executive George Latimer told reporters, including CBS2’s Tony Aiello, on Thursday.

(Photo: CBS2)

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First responders from the 58 departments in the county will train at the facility on what to the untrained eye appears to be a baffling cluster of pipes, valves, meters, and other bits of natural gas infrastructure.

Local fire companies have always trained with Con Edison for gas emergencies, but that training involved watching videos and leafing through manuals. Now, they’ll get hands-on training from utility experts — what to look for and listen for.

“That is not a normal sound you would hear from a regulator,” Con Ed’s Jerys Freih said during an aspect of the training.

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It was actually compressed air substituting for pressurized natural gas. A high-pitched sound from a stove top indicates a dangerous over-pressurization condition, the very thing that lead to last year’s natural gas disaster near Boston that destroyed or damaged 100 homes.

“To have a facility like this where we can put our hands onto the actual equipment and work with Con Ed at the scene and be safe, is very important,” White Plains Fire Department Chief Richard Lyman said.

Everything from corroded pipes to damaged gas mains, if it can go wrong, they can train for it and be ready when the time comes.

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