WASHINGTON – Fires caused by static electricity at the gasoline pump are no urban myth, but they are preventable if motorists follow all safe refueling practices when they top off their tanks.
As National Fire Prevention Week begins October 9, API, the main trade association for the nation’s oil and natural gas industry, and the Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEI) are reminding drivers to avoid potential problems with static electricity at the gas pump by adhering to a few simple rules.
The good news is that the number of static electricity-related refueling fires has fallen steadily, according to PEI data. In 2006, the PEI recorded just two reports of static-related fires at the pump compared to 31 in 2001.
The main way consumers can avoid static electricity problems at the pump is to remain outside the vehicle while refueling, even though it may be tempting to climb back into the vehicle when the winter chill is in the air. It only takes two minutes, on average, to fill up the tank and staying outside the vehicle will greatly minimize the likelihood of any build-up of static electricity that could be discharged at the nozzle.
If a motorist experiences a fire when refueling, leave the nozzle in the fill pipe of the vehicle and back away. Leaving the nozzle in the vehicle will help prevent any fire from becoming worse. Notify the station attendant immediately to shut off all dispensing devices and pumps. If the facility is unattended, use the emergency shutdown button to shut off the pump and use the emergency intercom to summon help.
If you must re-enter your vehicle during refueling, be sure to discharge any static that may have built up before reaching for the nozzle. Static may be safely discharged by touching a metal part of the vehicle, such as the vehicle door, or some other metal surface, away from the nozzle, with a bare hand.
For more information on avoiding potential problems with static electricity build-up at the pump, refueling safety and safe fuel storage and handling guidelines, see API’s web site and PEI’s web site.