Driver escapes massive gas pump fire: AAA offers prevention tips

A massive fire broke out at a Powhatan gas station last week in what officials believe may have been as a result of static electricity.  Fortunately, the driver survived without injury and no one at the station was hurt.  AAA Mid-Atlantic cautions motorists to follow all safe refueling practices while filling their gas tanks at service stations.

AAA-LogoFires of this nature can occur when a person re-enters their vehicle while pumping gas and then discharges static electricity buildup when they leave the vehicle and remove the nozzle. Although rare, there are documented cases, in which static electricity discharges have ignited fuel vapors while fueling a vehicle.

“When gassing up consumers should make safety a priority, simply because something rarely happens doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” added Meade. “Here are the basic rules to avoid static electricity build-up while gassing-up: always turn off the engine, don’t smoke near gas pumps, and never re-enter your vehicle while refueling. Discharge your static electricity before fueling by touching a metal surface away from the nozzle.”

Fifty percent of the refueling fires reported “involved a person getting back into the vehicle while the gas was still flowing into the tank,” according to a pamphlet published by the Purdue University Extension Service.

“Filling-up the gas tank is a routine event which most of us do without really thinking about the dangers associated with the process,” said Meade.  “It is important, however, to remember that gasoline is a highly flammable substance and the potential for it to ignite is always present.”

If a motorist experiences a fire when refueling, leave the nozzle in the fill pipe of the vehicle and back away.  Here’s the rationale: “Leaving the nozzle in the vehicle will prevent any fire from becoming much more dangerous.”

Here are consumer refueling and fuel safety guidelines from the American Petroleum Institute that will help keep you and your family safe when refueling your vehicle:

  • Turn off your vehicle engine. Put your vehicle in park and/or set the emergency brake. Disable or turn off any auxiliary sources of ignition such as a camper or trailer heater, cooking units, or pilot lights.
  • Do not smoke, light matches or lighters while refueling at the pump or when using gasoline anywhere else.
  • Use only the refueling latch provided on the gasoline dispenser nozzle. Never jam the refueling latch on the nozzle open.
  • Do not re-enter your vehicle during refueling. If you cannot avoid re-entering your vehicle, discharge any static build-up BEFORE reaching for the nozzle by touching something metal with a bare hand — such as the vehicle door — away from the nozzle.)
  • In the unlikely event a static-caused fire occurs when refueling, leave the nozzle in the fill pipe and back away from the vehicle. Notify the station attendant immediately.

Portable Containers

  • When dispensing gasoline into a container, use only an approved portable container and place it on the ground to avoid a possible static electricity ignition of fuel vapors. Containers should never be filled while inside a vehicle or its trunk, the bed of a pickup truck or the floor of a trailer.
  • When filling a portable container, manually control the nozzle valve throughout the filling process. Fill a portable container slowly to decrease the chance of static electricity buildup and minimize spilling or splattering. Keeps the nozzle in contact with the rim of the container opening while refueling.
  • Fill container no more than 95 percent full to allow for expansion.
  • Place cap tightly on the container after filling – do not use containers that do not seal properly.
  • Only store gasoline in approved containers as required by federal or state authorities. Never store gasoline in glass or any other unapproved container.
  • If gasoline spills on the container, make sure that it has evaporated before you place the container in your vehicle.  Report spills to the attendant.
  • When transporting gasoline in a portable container make sure it is secured against tipping and sliding, and never leave it in direct sunlight or in the trunk of a car.

Additional Safety Guidelines

  • Do not over-fill or top-off your vehicle tank, which can cause gasoline spillage.
  • Never allow children under licensed driving age to operate the pump.
  • Avoid prolonged breathing of gasoline vapors. Use gasoline only in open areas that get plenty of fresh air. Keep your face away from the nozzle or container opening.
  • Never siphon gasoline by mouth nor put gasoline in your mouth for any reason. Gasoline can be harmful or fatal if swallowed. If someone swallows gasoline, do not induce vomiting. Contact a doctor or and emergency medical service provider immediately.
  • Keep gasoline away from your eyes and skin; it may cause irritation. Remove gasoline-soaked clothing immediately.
  • Use gasoline as a motor fuel only. Never use gasoline to wash your hands or as a cleaning solvent

What is more, AAA Mid-Atlantic also recommends that motorists actively monitor the nozzle at all times by keeping their hand on the dispenser and not using the automatic latching device. This will prevent them from driving off with the nozzle in their tank and/or the gas from overflowing if there is a problem with the device etc. This will also ensure that the motorist does not accidentally drive off with the nozzle still in the vehicle.



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