danger-at-the-pumpeditors-blog-entry3I hate pumping gas. In particular, I hate the toxic fumes I inhale every time I do it – all the while staring at the cancer warnings plastered on the gas pump.

Ever since I’ve had kids – two sweeties now ages 5 and 3 – I’ve also become more attuned to the dangers associated with pumping gas, most notably the very scary, but also unlikely prospect of a fire.

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Most parents – probably all – have nightmare visions they play out in their heads. One of mine – and it’s so horrible that it’s hard to write about – is a fire that occurs while I’m pumping gas with my two beautiful children strapped into their car seats in the back of the car.

No doubt the odds of this horrible vision occurring are remote.

After a scary experience we had at a local gas station yesterday, though, they don’t seem quite so remote anymore.

A heard-pounding experience
The experience provided a vivid and positively heart-pounding reminder that while it may seem routine, pumping gas is in fact a potentially deadly activity. And it’s one I will happily say goodbye to when we plug a new electric car into the sun sometime within the next two years.

Here’s how the experience unfolded.

conoco-static-warning1It began with a routine fill-up with $38 worth of 91 octane gasoline at a Conoco-Phillips gas station in far South Denver.

My two daughters, who I was driving back home from summer camp, were with me, strapped helplessly into their car seats in the back of our 1994 Toyota Camry.

Right after I’d put the gas nozzle back in its holster, I heard the sound of metal clanging against concrete. This was followed by the unmistakable sound of lots of liquid slapping against concrete.

About 20 feet away, at the next gas island (luckily not at ours), a man had been trying to fill a metal canister with gasoline. Somehow – and I have no idea how because I didn’t see it happen – the long rubber nozzle had come completely disengaged from the gas tank – and gasoline, a lot of it, was spewing everywhere, including, as far as I could tell, onto the man himself.

Dos & don’ts of pumping gas
Do not:
– Smoke while pumping gas
– Get into and out of the car while gas is pumping
– Leave the pump to go into the store, etc. while gas is being pumped
– Do anything to create a build-up of static electricity
– Pull the gas nozzle out of the tank if a fire starts
– Worry too much about cell phone use while pumping; there is no evidence that a cell phone has ever caused an at-the-pump fire

Do:
– Always be careful and cautious while pumping gas
– Ground yourself after stepping out of your car and before you pump gas by touching a metal object (such as the car) before you begin pumping
– Un-buckle the seat belts of all occupants in the vehicle before you exit to start pumping gas; that way, you can pull occupants from the car more quickly should a fire break out

Time froze
It was one of those moments in life when you feel like time freezes.

I immediately leaped into our car, fumbled for the keys, and after what felt like forever, started it. I quickly backed up and then pulled away from the gas station. This as the gasoline continued to gush from the hole the long, black rubber gas hose had once been attached to.

Another car parked at the same island as the man trying to fill his metal canister also sped away in a panic.

The man then sprinted to his car, leaped in, started it, and pulled away himself. In fact, I’m not sure it this was such a good idea given that some of the gasoline may have hit the trunk of his car. In the meantime, a Conoco attendant had rushed out to the gas tank from which gasoline was still pouring.

I don’t know what happened next, because we were already on East Evans avenue heading away from this Conoco station as quickly as possible.

I do know that gasoline and gasoline vapors are highly flammable and that a broken gas tank that’s shooting gasoline out a good clip is not something you should be anywhere near.

Gasoline ignites easily
In fact, the gasoline did not erupt into flames or I’m sure I would have been able to find a story about it in the Denver Post. But it could have ignited, and I have no idea what the results would have been. For instance, it’s unclear to me if the 20 to 30 feet between us and that gasoline gusher would have been enough or not.

I don’t know exactly how often these types of incidents occur, though I suspect it’s a lot more often than most of us think. In fact, I talked to a neighbor who spent the last year working part time at another Conoco gas station closer to our house, and what she told me didn’t inspire confidence.

acura-being-filled-upShe said she consistently had to turn off the pumps for smokers, for people who stepped back into their cars while pumping gas — this is a big no-no due to the danger from static electricity buildup, and because people have come into the store while “pumping” gas and the automatic nozzle has not turned off, creating a gasoline gusher at their car. She did say she’d never seen a hose become completely dislodged like we had just seen, though, she did add that she’d seen partial dislodgements of gas hoses on a number of different occasions.

I’ve never liked pumping gas and I have for a very long time felt extremely uneasy about doing it with our kids in the car. After the gas-gusher my daughters and I witnessed yesterday, just 20 feet away, I’m going to do everything I can to avoid pumping gas with kids in tow (and I’ll un-buckle them before I pump if there’s no way to avoid having them in the car when I pump).

In fact, as I discovered in doing some online research, experts do suggest un-buckling all passengers when pumping gasoline. And one expert on static electricity quoted by the news magazine Inside Edition estimates that, based on statistical probability, static electricity caused fires at gas stations should occur about 1,000 times a year in the United States.

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Plugging a car in
I can’t wait – absolutely, truly, cannot wait — until filling up our car means just plugging it in. Like a TV, like a computer, like a toaster, like a refrigerator, like a dryer, like a blow dryer, etc. Yes, of course, there’s the chance of electric shock when you plug in a toaster, although I’m willing to bet this chance is slimmer than the chances of being involved in a gas pump fire, and the potential outcome less severe if it does occur. (No form of death seems more horrible than burning to death, with the possible exception of being buried alive).

Plus, I can plug in an EV without the kids in the car. And, most importantly, I can do it on my own without having to worry that some idiot next to me is going to tug too hard on the gas nozzle, light up a cigarette, get into his or her car while pumping and, through his or her sheer stupidity, send me and my family to a fiery death.

Of course, one of our two future cars will be a plug-in hybrid, and we will have to tank it up every now and then – I’m guessing maybe once a month. But fewer trips to the gas station means fewer chances of encounters with nitwit gas pumpers. I’m certain that’s a good thing for my longevity, my wife’s, and, most importantly, our kids’.

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