As the first due engine officer and Incident Commander, are you prepared for these events?

Fires at service stations may be rare events, but there are hundreds of incidents caught on video. Whether it's a vehicle fire, structure fire, or some moron flicking a lighter near their gas tank, don't think it can't happen in your district.

Overhead automatic fire suppression.

A typical emergency fuel shutoff.

For vehicle fires at the pump, use a fog nozzle.

Static electricity fires at gas pumps are extremely rare but they do happen and many have been caught on video. A study conducted by the 'Petroleum Equipment Institute' discovered that in 150 incidents of static electricity fires while refueling vehicles, most of them involved women. This is interesting because the study suggests that most men never get back in their vehicles until they're completely done refueling and women tend to go back and forth from the nozzle to the interior of the vehicle when refueling which will more likely accumulate a static charge. In most of the cases, rubber-soled shoes were worn.

Cell phones are also dangerous to use around gasoline vapors. A static field surrounds the phone and user which when connected to the vapors can be its ignition source.

Although rare incidents, these static electricity gas pump fires can easily ignite the clothing on the person pumping the fuel.

STATIC ELECTRICITY FIRES

REMEMBER: Fueling stations, service stations, auto repair and body shops are full of combustible and hazardous materials. They house fuel storage tanks, numerous vehicles, paints, machinery, tires, acetylene, petroleum and auto parts. They will burn much faster and hotter than your average structure fire. During interior attacks at service station fires, be aware of mechanic floor pits, elevated hydraulic lifts (explosion hazard) with vehicles on them, increased fire loads, suspended ceilings, storage racks and lightweight truss construction.

The obvious strategy and tactics for fires in auto repair shops is to go big water right away using 200-250 GPM 2 1/2 lines and master streams. Get the garage doors open early and protect any exposures. If heavily secured, take out a few of the garage door windows and direct the stream in the building until the doors or other access points can be opened. If venting the roof is necessary, try to work from a bucket or aerial ladder, especially when there's heavy fire or lightweight construction present. Most of these structures in urban areas are of type 2 or 3 construction and roof supports are usually unprotected. Expect any vehicles burning inside the structure to contribute additional hazards like exploding struts, bumpers, compressed gas inflators, burning magnesium, battery acid and running gasoline. 

GUARD DOGS: Use caution and request animal control if you see aggressive guard dogs.

HAZARDOUS MATERIALS: Some hazmats found at service stations are sulfuric acid, caustic solution, flammable gas/liquid, solvents, parts cleaners, oil, hydraulic fluids, car batteries, cleaners, propane-kerosene-aerosol cans.

Auto salvage yards, service stations will have similar contents and fire loads.

Service station fire State College P.A. Part 2. Notice the thick black toxic smoke.

Service garage fire in State College, P.A. Part 1 helmet cam.

Ironically this tanker truck crashed into a gas station killing the driver.

Some people ignore the 'Do Not Smoke' signs at the pumps. Then this happens.

There's human error and then there's just plain stupidity by the driver.

​Fires at service stations may be considered high-risk/low frequency events, but they happen more often than we think. There are over a thousand fires a year at service stations across the U.S. Most are vehicle fires, but a bulk of the property loss is a result of structure fires. These incidents come with additional hazards that require a cautious approach and additional resources. Dangers from flammable liquids and hazardous material fire loads to burning vehicles exploding inside of an auto shop make the potential for danger greater at these incidents. 

Service Stations are defined as fueling stations and auto repair shops. A vehicle burning on a lift inside of an auto repair shop is considered a structure fire. A vehicle burning at a gas station remote from the structure itself under a canopy attached to a gas pump is a vehicle fire with an exposure problem, and warrants a structure assignment.

Apparatus placement is critical when it comes to fueling station fires. For example, when arriving to a vehicle fire at the gas dispensing area, be sure to approach cautiously, parking at least 150 feet away if possible, uphill and upwind. If an exposed propane tank is involved, park even further away. Consider the possibility of running fuel fires, potential LPG explosion, difficult hose stretches and the direction of other responding emergency vehicles when determining apparatus placement. Do a quick scan on approach for exposure problems, additional storage tanks, or an occupant trapped inside of a burning vehicle that will require immediate action. We must be prepared to make quick smart tactical decisions for these emergencies.

For a vehicle fire at the pump, most gas stations will have a manual or automatic fire suppression systems that will activate, which will be obvious upon arrival. Arriving companies should verify that the emergency pump shutoff is activated. The station attendant may have already done this, but we can't always rely on them; confirmation is needed. The priority is to rescue any occupants inside of the vehicle and evacuate anyone in the danger zone. Bring the proper tools and equipment for the job (Irons, hole punch, seat belt cutter, dry chem extinguisher).

TIP: Most emergency shutoffs are located on the island near the pumps and inside the attendant booth or building behind the counter.

A carbon dioxide fire extinguisher and AFFF foam are the best methods to extinguish a gasoline fire. Gas stations should have fire extinguishers near the pumps and may have an overhead suppression system. Vehicle fires at the pumps can be extinguished conventionally by using water from a hand line directed inside the vehicle and engine compartment. Whether the fuel nozzle is still connected to the vehicle or on the ground doesn't matter IF THE PUMP SHUTOFF IS ACTIVATED. If the fuel is still flowing out of the nozzle, the shutoff has not been activated. Use a dry chemical fire extinguisher (or foam) for any fuel burning on the ground near the pumps or under the vehicle. Do not use water on burning gasoline. Consider using water with a fog nozzle for vapor control and protecting exposures if necessary. 

TIP: Thanks to the film industry, many people are under the impression that when a car hits a gas pump, a large violent explosion follows because that's what they see in the movies. There's actually many safety features built into the gas pumps and underground tanks to prevent such explosions. There are emergency shutoffs, backflow preventers, and shear valves. Properly maintained underground storage tanks will not have the proper vapor/oxygen ratio to support combustion. (Unlike this incident)

 Emergency Shear Valves are installed on fuel-supply lines beneath dispensers at grade level to minimize hazards associated with collision or fire at the dispenser. If the dispenser is pulled over or dislodged by collision, the top of the valve breaks free at the integral shear groove, activating poppets that shut off the flow of fuel- OPW Global


Three vehicles burning caused by the orange car backing in to the pump.

Car takes out the pump. A 'shear' valve safety device prevented an explosion/fire.

Service station fire caused by vehicle inside the station on the lift.

Know where the pump shutoffs are and remember that rescue is your top priority.

A burning RV is a structure fire on wheels. Be aware of propane tanks.

Fire pre-plans will determine which stations have suppression systems.

SERVICE STATION FIRES