Gas, Anyone?

Happy Sunday, everyone. It’s time for another helping of the weekly guest column from our friend Paul Curran. From Canada, why don’t you help yourself to a cup?

Paul Curran, our esteemed writer.

Paul Curran, our esteemed writer.

Your Barista – Paul

Gas Deliveries

Welcome to the weekly coffee and tea garden. My name is Paul, I’ll be your barista today and I’m happy to be here at Mark Bialczak’s Little Bitty in Syracuse, New York. Please come in and go through to the living room. Mark, his wife Karen and their pooch Ellie B, have prepared a nice, warm, comfy place for us so I can tend to your needs for a cuppa, and sweets. The weather this morning is cloudy and cool with a high just over 50 F. As usual, I’d be pleased to bring a pot of whatever beverage you prefer – we have a wide range of teas and coffees to satisfy our worldwide readership and adult beverages for those who wish something stronger to warm up. We can relax with a cuppa while we discuss the affairs of the week both personal and/or worldwide. Ellie likes to be patted, so please indulge her when she greets you. How has your week been? Have a sweet – electronic sweets are all calorie free!

Yum, Yum!

It’s been a relatively slow news week so I figured that I’d recount a few of the more amusing stories from my fuel hauling days. We had delivery plans with a diagram and all the gas station details for every site we delivered to and our drivers were well-trained with a lot of resources to consult if need be. No question was too stupid and no one was ever chastised for asking any question at any time of day. It was far simpler to answer a question at 2am than it was to deal with a spill or mix (gas in diesel was the most common). All that said circumstances often occurred that were unfamiliar.

The first one is titled “Tom Learns French”. Ha! We had a very experienced driver called Tom. He was the youngest driver (fuel drivers are rarely younger than 35 because it requires a “think first”, mature attitude) at about 34 and he was a proud and smart man. He exercised daily and was tall and muscular. When he entered a room, his chest came in first. All that said, Tom had an awesome sense of humor and laughed at himself regularly. We often loaded from Petro-Canada in Montreal and normally entered through our own entrance. They were doing construction one summer and we had to enter through the main gate of the refinery, from whence we received an escort to the loading racks.

Petro-Canada Montreal

Tom came back from loading in Montreal one day and he told us the following story. He had entered the refinery and was standing beside his truck waiting for his escort when there was an explosion – never a good thing in a refinery. As he turned to see what was happening a construction crew of French workmen came running towards him hollering “Feu!, Feu!” Not knowing any French Tom looked closer and realized that one of the huge 10 story steel gas cracking towers had sprung a leak and flames were shooting up the sides. Alarms were going off and Tom, without thought joined the workers running out the refinery gate. He said he got about the middle of Sherbrooke St. (a major 6 lane artery) when he realized that if the refinery blew up he would never outrun the devastation so he stopped and walked back inside the gates. There were automatic fire suppression systems on the cracking tower and the fire was soon out with minimal damage. When Tom was done with his story, he said the only thing he couldn’t figure out was what the workmen were shouting – “Feu!, Feu!” One of our dispatchers explained that was French for Fire. From then on we made a habit of asking Tom if he had learned any more French lately. Not long after that we all chipped in and bought Tom a T-shirt that had a picture of a gas tanker on the front with the words: ‘I’m a Fuel Hauler …’ And on the back read ‘ … so if you see me running do your best to keep up.'” Ha!

Underground Tank with Vents to Far Right

Here’s an odd story that drives home something I have often been told but never paid any attention to. We had a driver unloading in a rural service station one evening when suddenly the vent pipes from the tanks that allowed fumes to exit and air to enter caught fire. They are long pipes that typically are at the edge of the property wherever gas tanks are underground. They run underground and attach to the very top of the tank to reduce any pressure changes in the tank when filling or as customers are served. In this case, the owner had been cheap and had run the vents up the side of his building, extending well clear of the roof. Some years later a second floor was added to the building and living quarters were built there. It turned out, after investigation, that the owner had installed a clothes dryer inside and had vented it right beside the gas tank vents, which were not moved or extended but rather tucked under the rafters – a very dangerous place for a vent. So the lint built up in the dryer vent and then one day as the driver was delivering gas and the dryer was on at the same time, the gas fumes mixed with the lint and burst into flames. The driver immediately shut down the flow of gas which should have put out the fire but it had caught the rafters on fire and continued to burn. They called the fire department and the fire was extinguished quickly. The moral of the story is always use and check your lint traps, especially if you own a gas station. Ha!

Would anyone like another cuppa? There’s lots to go around. Perhaps a sweet with that? Our competition, Tudhope Trucking, had the contract to deliver all the Shell products in our area and they kept their fleet at the Shell terminal. It was a good deal for them as they had no empty miles to load and they had a building there that they could use as an office and garage. The building was big enough to put a whole tractor-trailer in while maintenance was being done. Approaching the terminal going west on Hunt Club Road, the road descended from an overpass and a full view of the yard and buildings was visible from above. When doing any maintenance involving welding or other heat-producing tools, it was necessary to purge the tanker with diesel beforehand. A typical gas tanker has 5 compartments (and baffles) – this allows partial unloading accurately and also prevents the serious sloshing of product when stopping or starting. Diesel is quite inert and can even be used to put out a normal flame. Gasoline, however, is extremely flammable and explosive, especially in an empty tanker where there is a mixture of air and gas fumes. Whenever repairs were to be done, the dispatch would make sure the tanker had a last load of diesel and then it was safe to work on hen empty. Each tanker is required by law to display a product identification number that shows what is in the tanker or if empty, the last contained product. The rule is that no matter what products are in the tank, the unit is placarded with the number of the most explosive product or last contained.

Tanker with Station Vents Behind

Huffington Post

Huffington Post

So, one bright sunny morning one of Tudhope’s tankers was inside their building to have some minor welding done. The dispatcher had given the last driver a load of diesel, and as the mechanic had expected, the tanker was placarded for diesel as last contained. The proper procedure was to use a sniffer – an electronic fume identifier – to check for any explosive fumes before welding, but the mechanic saw what he was expecting and did not check. What he did not know was that the last driver was new, and he had not loaded hence not purged one compartment (the load was small and instead of putting a bit in each compartment, he filled four of the five compartments and left one empty). That empty compartment was full of gas fumes from two loads previous, but again the new driver did not realize this (didn’t check the copy of the previous load that was required by law to be left in the truck) and he placarded the whole truck as diesel.

And so it came it be that a tanker showing purged with diesel, actually had gas fumes in one compartment and the mechanic did not double-check before starting work. I had a friend who was in the garage when the mechanic started welding on the top of the gas compartment. After a few minutes the heat transferred inside and the gas exploded. The tankers are designed to guide any explosions upwards where less damage will be done, and the entire section of the top of the tank shot upwards and hit the roof. It kept going — an 8-by-8-foot section of metal – through the roof and landed 100 feet away in the yard. Including the mechanic, there were 8 people in the building at the time and none sustained serious injuries. The mechanic was treated for minor burns, abrasions (when he was blown off the top to the floor), hearing loss, and shock. Needless to say a number of heads rolled, Tudhope lost their garage and were evicted from the property. For the rest of the summer as we came down Hunt Club Rd,. we could see the top of the garage ripped open just exactly as if a huge giant had reached down and grabbed it and pulled – pieces of roof sticking up randomly around a gaping hole where the pieces of tanker had exited. Shell demolished the building that fall.

One final funny to close. I was loading gas at the loading rack at Petro-Canada’s Ottawa distribution center one hot summer day when Grant, one of the employees, came walking by. Suddenly there was a loud beeping noise and I froze – unexpected sounds around pipes that are loading 3,000 liters a minute of explosive gasoline are always labeled dangerous by anyone who enjoys their life. Grant stopped and he turned all red. He was wearing a bright blue fire-proof Nomex coverall – the standard uniform for distribution center employees. I asked him what that noise was and he kind of stuttered, embarrassed and then he explained: “I have a sniffer (gas fume detector) in my pocket and I just farted.”

That’s about all we have room for this week folks, so it’s time to settle in with another cuppa and pat Ellie B. Sweets anyone? Please join me in thanking Mark, Karen and Ellie B for their invitation to tea. We are all honored that you dropped by today to visit. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself and the conversation and please look around at Mark’s other posts while you’re here. Have a great week.

Refill Please!


31 thoughts on “Gas, Anyone?

  1. Morning Paul I’ll take my cuppa black this a.m. no sweets though! I must say that their certainly had been some experiences for you to share, my word-dangerous indeed. SO, glad everyone faired out well…I recall as a child my family went on vacation from Florida to New Jersey-whereby Elizabeth City , NJ had refineries off on the distance. My brother’s were fascinated by the steam rising from several of the buildings? As we came closer the steam ended up being a fire! Smoke, alarms, fire trucks, emergency personnel flew by us literally. My Father took the next exit and diverted the scene. Alls well that ends well (I think?)! Have a great Sunday Paul. The Gatorette

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good morning Gatorette! One black coming up! Thanks so much for dropping by – yes all turned out well, Surprisingly the safety built into the systems is continually improved. I worked for years in fuel hauling and we had no one injured due to the fuel (we had one driver put a partly loaded tanker off the road in a construction zone who was hurt a bit but not related to fuel). Every time there was an accident, the manufacturer showed up and wanted a full report to see if they could improve the tanker, They built in each suggestion to the next tanker they built and so on. We actually had a loaded tractor-trailer hit the rear of one of our loaded gas tankers st 50 mph when our tanker was stopped in a constriction zone. The tank did not even leak – mind you it drove the wheels up under the trailer and wrote off the truck but the tank was sound – unbelievable, In another case one of our competitors rolled a loaded tanker over on its side and the only leak was from the truck’s fuel tank – not a drop from the tanker itself.

      Anyway, all is well Gatorette – you have a great week.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wondering now Paul as you reflect on those days, if you really knew all the dangers? Safety is of the upmost importance in most cases. It is comforting to know that they constantly tried to improve safety standards!!!! You too enjoy the upcoming week. Gatorette.

        Liked by 1 person

      • All dangers – no. Our drivers were required to have a minimum of 5 years accident free with 3 years on heavy (3 or more trailer axles), But we gave 3-4 weeks of just fuel training on the road with certified trainers. They were then tested to make sure they were OK – and not all made it. When I was safety officer we actually ended up with about 2 out of each 500 applicants that made it all the way through testing and training. Then they were trained continually with at least 2 in house training sessions, 1 fire training session and 1 ride along per year. We trained with the purpose of making the drivers aware so they could continually learn on their own. We made sure that drivers shared any incidents or issues and we had a very strong health and safety committee for complaints and communication. Every customer we hauled for required that each driver review and be tested on their safety regulations and be carded for that customer’s facilities. Personally I had 11 loading cards. We also were trained and tested on government regulations regarding hauling fuel (Dangerous Goods regs) and industry standards -CPPI . All drivers were also required to take defensive driving courses, fire and spill courses and lectures on highway regulations including hours of service. Their compliance with all regs was closely monitored,including audits of their records (it is pretty easy to catch errors or attempts to cheat by comparing all records). Also all drivers were required to wear fireproof overalls, eye protection, helmets and steel toed boots, along with special fuel proof gloves. No short cuts were tolerated and random checks of loading,unloading, drug and alcohol were conducted according to government regulations and company policy (which was more strict than government regs). They were amongst the most regulated and trained drivers on the road – all a job for only mature drivers.

        Anyway, I could go on but we had the best trained and learning culture out there. Our drivers even took courses at the fire training center where there putout real fires. I was comfortable enough that I could sleep at night when their safety was myu responsibility – and I am anal about safety.

        Liked by 1 person

      • So it makes me wonder Paul, in the US how their safety standards measure up to Canada’s? I recall you mentioning you did long hauls (in between towns, etc) in US we see Haz/Mat Semi’s frequently. Including Gas/Diesel Tankers even locally refueling Stations. I suppose for me personally I never really gave it as much thought as to the dangers/safety issues that are involved. We are all anal about something-LOL. Gatorette.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I haven’t actually hauled fuel into the US but I have studied their system and talked to US drivers (they load in Canada along the border). They seem to be just as safety conscious as we are. There are different names for the hazardous materials systems (HazMat) but the systems themselves are international. It is a UN system and is common from Bankock to Houston to Vancouver to Amsterdam.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Beth! Not as fancy as some Shakespeare posts this morning (Ha! fun post). Thanks so much for dropping by. Most of the guys who dealt with the truckers spoke English well enough to be understood – but the refinery workers were another world entirely. In fact some are separatists, believing Quebec should be its own French country.. Yikes! I got along well enough with every one but there were some serious rifts at that plant – separatists working for Canad’s national gas company – kind of an oxymoron. Thanks for the visit.


    • Willow! so lovely to see you drop by. One cuppa on the way and what would you like for sweets? It is great to see you here. I trust all is as well as can be expected. I thought I would have a bit of fun with today’s post, but I’m not sure how well the readers will like it. Many prefer stories that are character driven and I’m working on it. Our prayers are with you and your family Willow.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dear Paul am sure your readers will enjoy today’s offering! I have my hands full , ( busy) to stop my mind from hurting! 🙂 Can I please have a large slice of carrot cake and a black coffee. It is always a pleasure to drop by to visit you and your lovely hosts! ❤ xxx

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Coffeeeee..oh, I’ve probably had too much – up early to walk the dog before a set of rain comes in.
    Few people know about gasoline diesel being inert. We need more practical science in every day taught in schools. You know the refineries here – and all the tankers. I tend to be a bit wary when filling up at a station if the tanker is unloading product. (that last story with the teenagers faking the flaming fuel spill freaked me out HA HA) That was the perfect tshirt for Tom – and hilarious detector story (always wondered if that could happen)
    Oh, a dog to pet, Cool. Enjoyed the visit!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Phil! Great to see you here – thank you for dropping by. Diesel has a much lower vapor pressure so it has to be very hot before enough fumes are in the air for the mix to be explosive. It’s still a serious environmental poison and a slimy clean-up as it adheres to most biologics. As far as filling up when deliveries were happening = personally I’d drive right by to the next station. The diagram is much harder to read – I’ll do better next time – but see #10 – Dispenser Sump? There are big filters in there that should take out any and all contaminants that are stirred up by the delivery. Assuming the filters are maintained properly (which is NOT done as often as it should be because they are expensive) all particulate matter should be filtered. BUT, the little specs that are too small for the filters gets through. Also, and this is the scary part for me, it is inevitable that some water gets into the tanks – filling while raining, condensation on inner walls when temp changes are great (for example on hot days fuel temperatures in external storage tanks [where trucks are loaded] can get as high as 100 F. The temperature underground is always around 57 F so when the hot fuel hits the cool fuel , water results. That water falls to the bottom of the tank because gas floats. Refineries put additives in gas to absorb water and allow it to burn like gas, but if there is too much water, when the delivery is occurring, it ends up in your gas tank.) Last but not least – the temp difference.It used to be in the US (and it still is in most places) that gas is dispensed by the measured volume. Now,like everything else, gas expands when hot and contracts when cool ( a considerable amount in fact – a tractor-trailer load weighs about 10,000 pounds more in summer than in winter). Because the temperature underground is a consistent 57 F that doesn’t matter most of the time – except when hot deliveries are done. If you fill your car with hot fuel you can get as much as 5 or 6 miles per gallon LESS than if you fill (same volume) with cool fuel. that is because there are literally less molecules of burnable product in the same volume due to expansion.Here in Canada the pumps are more complex and measure the temperature of the fuel and then electronically adjust for that so you always pay for the gas as if it was 57 F. That said, you will find here that a tank of hot fuel will make your car seem to take less gas.

      Anyway, thanks again for the visit Phil!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting about the temperature and fill ups. Makes sense.
        Right now I’m wary of which stations have water in their tanks….got a load in my little Maverick once right out of college after a flood – that wasn’t fun.
        It always amuses me when Hollywood has big tankers of diesel explode in a great fireball. (Although we did have an ammonia truck accident a while back inside the city – people on the road did get hurt by the fumes. I had to use local knowledge/wind direction to get around closed area and home safely. Wiped out the immediate area, but that space was soooo green the next spring. A bit of a difficult way to get fertilized, right? I alway notice the signs on the tankers identifying what they are carrying.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah,I wouldn’t use any gas station that is at the foot of a cliff or in a valley – they often have water in the tanks. We had the 7-11 contract for Toronto and they required we test for water before delivering. That didn’t always get done. That whole exploding thing with tankers is well overdone – in theory it can happen but it is very rare – they are very safe as long as the driver knows his/her job and they are most dangerous when empty with gas as last contained.

        Ahhh, ammonia. Ha! When I hauled produce from the west coast we would sometimes get strawberries. If anything happened the berries would begin to mold and would be worthless. Some of the guys (not me) would buy a tank of ammonia and empty it inside the trailer. By the time they got to the delivery the berries would be bright red and juicy looking without a sign of mold.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Big produce sources/grocery stores do that ammonia trick, too. (wash, wash wash before eating…)
        That ammonia truck accident here wasn’t the driver’s fault – stupid car driver antics – he did his best to alter course to avoid smushing them against a support of a giant interchange overhead. Bad car drivers cause a lot of truck wreaks around here.
        I avoid all gas stations in valleys and at foot of cliffs around here (smirk) added to the ones right by bayou and high tide areas. HA HA

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Ha ha ha… good stories, Paul, and a reminder as to why I’ll never be a fuel anything! You know that joke about the guy flying up in the sky after his BBQ blows up? Well, that guy was me! I’d closed the lid for a moment and when I opened it, the flames took off my eyelashes, eyebrows and bangs! Yeah, been using briquettes ever since.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Robyn! Thanks so much for dropping by. I’ve blown up a few BBQ’s myself -Ha! Never lost any hair to it though,so you’ve got me beat. Thanks for the visit I am honored that you came by.


  4. Paul you are a master story teller. I’m glad all of these stories turned out to be funny instead of catastrophic. You would think in that industry people would be a bit more cautious and certain they knew what was going on in the tanks. I suppose the farter, however, may not have had any way to premeasure or ensure the power of his gas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very,very seldom was anyone hurt Colleen – the safety was built into everything as long as you were well trained. Thanks so much for dropping by for a visit- I am honored. For instance the trucks often pickup a small electrical charge while driving. So when the driver hooks up his hoses, it is critical to hook to the truck last because there is no gas vapor at that end (there is at the in-ground receiving tank) – each hose having a ground wire that runs all the way through and joins the two end connectors. Once the hose is connected from the in-ground tank to the truck, this prevents static charge from building from the liquid flow while unloading. However it also makes the truck the same electrical ground as the physical ground. And that means that electrical storms see the top of the truck first before anything else – which means that when an electrical storm is coming, you unhook your hoses (only one end necessary) and wait. See?If you know what you are doing it is simple and safe. If not you can blow yourself up very quickly just doing something as simple as hooking up the wrong end of a hose first.

      Thanks again for the read and comment.


      • I hate to admit this Colleen,but the strongest force behind the safety is the oil companies themselves. They wring their hands at the thought that their company name and image could appear in the news because of any incident. They are often anal about the rules – some requiring stations to supervise and report on all deliveries. The government is draconian in enforcement when an incident takes place,but are too thinly spread to monitor daily activities. Companies will look the other way if more profit is involved but are frightened by the government should there be an incident. When I was safety manager we would have a random inspection every few years by Transport Canada (who are responsible for dangerous goods transportation) and the company would go bananas.Our area was the responsibility of a woman called Shirley and she was detailed beyond belief. She once had a railroad (her responsibility too) that did not obey her written requests and she marched in with Federal Agents and shut it down – putting large locks on their premises and seizing all their rolling stock wherever it happened to be. She parked 10,000 employees. The bigger the target, the bigger their grin as it played in the press that the government was protecting us all. Like I said she was anal. Placards identifying products in the trailers are required on all units. Because we often hauled the same products, we had flip units attached to the trailers that could be set to show any one of about 5 products we hauled regularly. The sun would fade the colors slightly over the years and Shirley would show up with a color match chart and write up every placard that was faded outside allowed range. That would seize the trailer as out of service until fixed.The placards were about $10 and the trailer were $250,000 – she knew the problems would be fixed fast and she was right. That one agent and her assistant were responsible for all of eastern Ontario -thousands of square miles with thousands of communities and hundreds of companies. She alone did airlines, trucking companies, railroads, etc.

        Anyway, suffice it to say that we had more agencies and interests pressing safety than could be counted. No need to be worried – in my experience as Safety Manager there were no loopholes in the big picture. It was possible to cheat for a short time but you would always get caught eventually.


      • That’s fine Colleen – I sometimes think I bore people so I’m happy that you read my responses and I don’t expect a big answer. 😀


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