Firefighters warn motorists about dangers of spilling gasoline

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Motorists who have to fill their gasoline tanks on cold winter days may be tempted to get back in the car after putting the nozzle in the tank, and wait in warmth as the tank fills.

But the Cape Girardeau fire department says that is not safe.

According to assistant chief Mark Hasheider, it is best to stay outside by the car while pumping gasoline. Two motorists in the last two weeks started the gas pump and got back inside their cars thinking that the pump would shut off automatically. In each instance, he said, between 10 and 15 gallons of gasoline overflowed onto the ground.

One incident happened Dec. 29 at Shell D-Mart, 3425 William St., Hasheider said, and the other happened Tuesday at Huck's, 353 S. Kingshighway.

In each instance the fire department used absorbent pads and other materials to soak up the spilled gasoline. The spilled gasoline did not ignite, but Hasheider said it easily could have.

Because the spilled gasoline spread out over a wide area, he said, the gasoline probably would have burned out quickly if it had ignited, but it could also have spread to other materials, another car, or a nearby pump and caused some serious damage.

"Any time you have a hydrocarbon spill, it has the potential to do damage," Hasheider said.

Hasheider advises that motorists should always turn their engines off when pumping gasoline and not smoke to keep fumes from igniting.

During the winter months especially, when the air is dryer, he suggests that people be especially aware of static electricity. When people slide back and forth on cloth car seats getting in and out of their vehicles, it has the same effect as dragging feet across a carpet. It builds up static electricity, and when the person touches something it creates a spark that could ignite the gasoline fumes.

Avoiding distractions

Hasheider also advises people not talk on cell phones while pumping gasoline. Some warnings have been made that cell phones and pagers can spark a fire, but Hasheider said he advises people not to use cell phones so they will stay focused on pumping gasoline and not spill any.

"Some are not paying attention to what's going on during the fueling process," he said.

None of the spilled gasoline created a biohazard to the surrounding area, Hasheider said. The absorbent pads and material the fire department uses are designed to soak up gasoline and diesel fuel, but will repel water. The fire department also uses that material to absorb fuel that may have spilled into a creek since the fuel will float on top of the water. The used material is then picked up by a licensed vendor and disposed of according to hazardous waste procedures.

Even with the lower price of gasoline, losing 15 to 20 gallons due to carelessness is still expensive. Hasheider said the motorists and the owners of the gas stations will have to determine who pays for the spilled fuel. It would depend on whether the motorists were determined to be at fault for not watching closely, or whether the gasoline spilled because the sensors on the automatic shutoff were defective. It is also possible, he said, that the gasoline was flowing too slowly through the hose to trigger the sensor.

Hasheider suggests that people brave the cold and stand at the nozzle to make sure the gasoline doesn't overflow.

"You should be observant to what's going on," he said. "It's for your safety as well as the other people around you."

335-6611, extension 160

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