July 31, 2002

Gas pump fires caused by static electricity are rare

Des Plaines, Illinois – The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) is providing safety tips for the public aimed at reducing their risk when filling up their vehicle. This year, static electricity has caused a few fires at gas stations when consumers were filling up, but according to the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEI), these cases are very rare. API estimates that each year there are an average of 11 billion fill-ups and very few fire incidents involving static electricity.

Static electricity may occur when a person filling their tank leaves the nozzle, gets back in their vehicle and rubs against the seats. When they return to the vehicle fill pipe when the refueling is complete the built up static may discharge at the fill point, causing a brief flash fire with gasoline refueling vapors.

“There are several ways a person refueling their vehicle can avoid this from happening,” ASSE President, and Houston, TX resident, Mark Hansen, P.E., C.S.P., says. “For instance, when you’re putting gas in your car you should not get back into the vehicle because this can cause static electricity. If you must get back in the car for some reason during the fueling process, you should always touch a metal part of the vehicle first, such as the door, or some other metal surface, away from the fill point when exiting the car and returning to the refueling area. This reduces the build-up of static electricity and minimizes the likelihood of a fire occurring.”

For added safety when refueling a vehicle, one should: not smoke, light matches or lighters while refueling; use only the refueling latch provided on the gasoline dispenser nozzle – never jam the refueling latch on the nozzle open; turn off the vehicle engine while refueling; put the vehicle in park and/or set the emergency break; and, do not over fill or top-off your vehicle tank, which can cause gasoline spillage.

In the unlikely event a static-caused fire occurs when refueling, the API says that one should leave the nozzle in the fill pipe and back away from the vehicle. Tell the station attendant immediately so that all dispensing devices and pumps can be shut off with emergency controls. If the gas retail facility is unattended, use the emergency shutdown button to shut off the pump and use the emergency intercom to call for help.

When putting gasoline into a container, use only an approved portable container and place it on the ground when refueling to avoid a possible static electricity ignition of fuel vapors. Containers, according to the API, should never be filled while inside a vehicle or its trunk, the bed of a pickup truck or the floor of the trailer.

For more information, see www.api.org or www.asse.org.

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