Trades students learn how to spot meth labs, fend off dog attacks

Published: Dec. 9, 2019 at 4:59 PM CST
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Nearly 100 NWTC students about to enter the workforce are going through some unconventional training.

They're learning how to fend off dog attacks, deal with angry property owners and spot meth labs -- a new addition this year.

Alex Davis and Austin Hoeckendorff volunteer to be attacked by a dog as the afternoon training session gets underway.

They hope never to have that happen outside a classroom, but if the two soon-to-be utility linemen are ever attacked by a dog while working, they'll know how to react.

"You never know what's going to happen. You just have to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best," says Austin Hoeckendorff, an electrical power distribution student at NWTC.

The college invited Hector Hernandez, who trains utility and mail delivery workers around the country, to teach these trades students what to do when the unexpected happens.

That includes dealing with an attacking dog or angry homeowners who don't want them on their property.

"I was kind of worried about it. If your company tells you to go shut off somebody's power, you know, they're not going to be happy about it," says Alex Davis, electrical power distribution student.

"You want to be able to deal with those people with empathy. It means you have to listen to them, too, so I teach them how to listen, how to respond, and they're going to respond with empathy," says Hernandez.

The focus for these masonry, HVAC, gas utility and electrical power distribution students is safety.

With the surge in methamphetamine use in Northeast Wisconsin, for the first time, these students are also learning how to deal with people who are not only high on drugs but also how to spot signs of meth labs.

"Like watching for empty plastic bottles and hoses and Drano, sorts of telltale signs like that," explains Davis.

It's definitely not typical coursework, but instructor Peter Mleziva sees all of this as necessary training for the future workforce.

It's something he wished he'd had.

"I've had life-threatening phone calls when I've had to turn people's power back on, which would seem really ridiculous, but I had to go and collect money and they didn't have all the money," says Mleziva. "They were like, 'We're going to...,' it was threatening. I didn't have this training prior to that, so I didn't handle that situation probably the right way, but now that I have the training, I know exactly what to do."

Mleziva says students who've completed the training put what they learned to use within days of the class.

Hernandez says the skills the students are learning can be used on the job and off.

"Over 90 percent of communication is body language, and we forget about that," says Hernandez. "I teach them a lot about body language. They could stand a certain way, and if they flip their body and turn, they could think they're going to hit them. They could shake their hand a certain way and interpret that as a challenge versus as a mutual agreement with each other."

NWTC offers the class once a year.

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