Q: What can I do to help prevent a fire at the gas pump?
A: Do not smoke while refueling. Gasoline vapors can ignite. The Ohio Fire Code provides that gasoline and other flammable or combustible liquids shall be dispensed only by a person who is not smoking.Smokers must exercise extreme caution when at gas stations, just as they must be careful at home. Smoking has historically been the leading cause of residential fire fatalities. According to the Ohio Board of Building Standards (1/2/2009, p. 12; www.com.ohio.gov/documents/407.pdf), "The two leading causes of civilian deaths are arson at 28 percent and smoking at 18 percent."
Q: Can gas flowing to station pumps be disconnected in emergencies?
A: Yes. In fact, the Ohio Fire Code requires gas stations to have emergency disconnect switches. A clearly identified and readily accessible emergency disconnect switch to stop the flow of fuel must be located within 100 feet of the fuel dispensers.
Q: Must portable fire extinguishers be available at gas stations?
A: Yes. The Ohio Fire Code requires that portable fire extinguishers be located within 75 feet of pumps, dispensers or storage tank fill-pipe openings.
Q: I’ve heard that static electricity also can cause gas station fires. Is that true?
A: Yes. Static electricity has caused fires at gas stations, including at least four in Ohio, according to the Petroleum Equipment Institute, Tulsa, Oklahoma. For this reason, you should not re-enter your vehicle while you are refueling, since static electricity caused by friction from your clothing’s contact with the car seat can ignite the gas when you get back out of the car to complete the refueling process. To view a video of such a fire and learn more about static electricity and gas station fires, visit www.pei.org/Index.aspx?p=stop_static.
Q: Should I be concerned about static electricity when filling portable gas containers?
A: Yes. You should place the portable containers on the ground when filling. It can be hazardous to fill them in the bed of a pickup truck or in back of an SUV or other passenger car due to static electricity.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), pickup trucks with plastic bedliners can be particularly hazardous because the bedliner acts as an insulator and allows static electricity to build up on the outside of the gasoline container while the flow of gasoline through the pump nozzle also can produce static electricity. Likewise, carpeting in back of passenger cars has acted as an insulator cause static electricity to build up.
Q: What is the best way to fill up a portable gas container placed on the ground?
A: The NHTSA suggests that, after you insert the nozzle into the opening of the portable gas container, you should maintain contact between the nozzle and the inside of the metal container until you’ve finished filling.
Q: Can cell phones cause gas station fires?
A: According to a study conducted by the University of Oklahoma, Center for the Study of Wireless Electromagnetic Compatibility, there has never been a confirmed cell phone-related incident at a gas station anywhere in the world.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by Lawrence T. Bennett, Esq., program chair, Fire Science & Emergency Management, University of Cincinnati.