Video+Story: New Simulator Trains EP Water Heavy Equipment Operators

Frank Rittel, Heavy Equipment Training Supervisor, loves training EPWater employees on a new simulator, and it shows.

From the vehicle’s vibration to the controls, it feels exactly like a loader or a backhoe. Imagine training on a simulator, then sliding into the seat of the real thing at El Paso Water five weeks later, confident in your ability to operate heavy equipment.

“Our trainer is very enthused about training employees on the heavy equipment simulator,” said Martin Noriega, Stormwater, Fleet and Building Maintenance Division Manager. “Anytime you have a trainer with that kind of enthusiasm, you know the employees will respond and take it seriously.”

“We get to teach employees the correct way to safely and efficiently operate heavy equipment,” said Rittel, who has 40 years’ experience. “I get the satisfaction of seeing employees better themselves and overcome fears.”

Once EPWater received the training equipment at the Fleet Maintenance Facility on Pan American Drive, Rittel made it his business to know the ins and outs of the heavy equipment simulator.

“I have logged 10 hours on this machine,” Rittel said. “It’s just like real life. It teaches you operational techniques. You learn how to operate the vehicle in a safe, efficient manner.”

The simulator grades trainees as they navigate through common challenges they would experience in the field. Not only does the simulator save the utility in equipment, mishaps and fuel costs, it also opens a door for hundreds of EPWater employees who would like to move up the ranks and train as heavy equipment operators, who are always in demand, said Alan Shubert, Vice President of Operations and Technical Services.

Photo courtesy EP Water

“We can take workers who aspire to become heavy equipment operators and train them effectively at a low cost,” Shubert said. “This is part of our cross-training initiative and safety program at El Paso Water. We want employees to practice and become more skilled in a safe environment.”

Rittel agrees that safety is paramount at the utility.

“We don’t have to put anyone in a vehicle to learn all of the maneuvers to successfully do a job,” Rittel said. ”

Coming here, they will learn the right way to operate on the simulator, and they will see their errors on the computer – not physical errors to a piece of machinery or worse, to individuals.”

Operating heavy equipment is not for everybody, Rittel said, and the simulator allows the utility to see who is capable of being an

operator before sliding into a vehicle.

“We need to make sure that we keep our employees safe, the public safe and that we have operators who are professionals out in the field who know what they are doing,” he said.