Ask explosives and blasting supplier Paul Fleuriel to name his company's most valuable asset, and his answer is immediate:
"My employees, of course," says the president of Pioneer Supply Corporation, based in Whately, a small town in western Massachusetts near the Connecticut River. And he is especially fond of "mature" workers — those over 40 — and what they bring to the company.
At least a dozen of Pioneer's employees, or roughly 25 percent, are mature workers, says Fleuriel, himself a mature worker of 72. A veteran of some 45 years in the construction industry, he works every day on a part-time basis, tending business matters in the office and visiting various job sites served by the company.
Mature workers are not only hard working, but they provide mentoring for the younger employees, says Fleuriel. "It takes new workers in this industry about three years of practical training to qualify for blasting certification, and that's why the mentoring by experienced older workers is so important."
In addition to teaching young workers how to operate drilling equipment and load explosives on job sites, mature workers show novices how to do it safely in a business where one mistake could be fatal. The company president notes that he, too, serves as a mentor.
"I've learned a lot about this industry over the years, and I enjoy sharing this knowledge with young people." In line with this, he often swings by job sites and speaks with blasters and drillers to provide tips and advice if needed, and make sure there are no problems.
Fleuriel's knowledge of blasting operations was recognized when he was appointed to the Massachusetts Board of Fire Prevention Regulations. The board, comprised of chemical and electric engineers, representatives of municipal fire chiefs and other professionals, reviews rules and regulations affecting public safety. Appointed to the post by the governor 10 years ago, he is still the board's sole representative for the blasting and pyrotechnic industries.
Ironically, this blasting expert had little mentoring himself when he entered the field many years ago. And though he attended college and earned an associate's degree, it had nothing to do with blasting or even construction in general.
"I attended the University of Massachusetts Agricultural School, and got an associate's degree in floriculture," he explains. That was in 1956, the year the 21-year-old married Katherine "Kit" Kennedy and they moved to Whately, her home town.
A few years later, in 1959, when the Interstate was underway and construction jobs were plentiful, he joined Shrewsbury, Mass., earthmoving contractor Henley-Lundgren as a laborer. He progressed over the years to foreman and assistant project superintendent, and in 1975 became the company's rock superintendent responsible for drilling and blasting at his boss' request — even though he knew nothing about it at the time. He taught himself through seminars, books, visiting quarry sites, and speaking with explosives suppliers.
When Henley-Lundgren went out of business in 1981, the out-of-work blasting superintendent borrowed $3,000 and launched his own explosives supply business in a garage at his Whately home. In those days, Kit handled paperwork and drove a powder truck to help out.
Today, Pioneer Supply Corporation is thriving, with between 45 and 50 employees, and provides customers with about 2 million pounds of product each year. There is a sister company now, Pioneer Drilling of Burrillville, Rhode Island, which Fleuriel launched in 2002. Key personnel include Gary Longley, executive vice president; Kevin Scarboro, safety, compliance and training director; and Josh Witherell,operations manager.
Fleuriel says he regards all his employees as part of his extended family.
As for his immediate family, Paul and Kit have two sons and two daughters, and recently celebrated their 50th anniversary.