Handling Gasoline in Connection With Motor Vehicles
We have in the State of Massachusetts at the present time about 25,000 garages, counting both large and small, public and private, and, according to the latest figures from the Highway Commission, there are in round numbers approximately 75,000 registered motor vehicles, in addition to the constantly increasing numbers of fire and police automobiles, and motor fire apparatus. When we take into consideration that nearly all of these use gasoline for the generation of motive power, and are obliged to have some safe and convenient base of supply, as well as adequate shelter, it will be readily seen that the task of framing regulations governing the construction and maintenance of garages and the keeping and handling of gasoline in connection therewith, from a fire hazard standpoint, is not only one of great importance to the general public, but a subject that should be very carefully handled. As a means of furnishing power for the transportation of both passengers and merchandise, gasoline has come into general use. It is no uncommon sight to see, what was only a few years ago a one-horse dump cart containing gravel or coal, now transferred into a motor truck with the same load increased to many times its original size, and travelling at many times its original speed. Motor fire apparatus has become almost indispensable, and the use of gasoline is not confined to getting the apparatus to the fire, but furnishes the power to pump water after its arrival, making gasoline almost as important in the extinguishing of fires as water. I shall expect soon to see Standard Oil motor tank trucks filled with gasoline responding to all third alarm fires. Gasoline is a hydrocarbon liquid, obtained from crude petroleum by the process known as fractional distillation. It is much lighter in weight than water, and legally comes under the heading of a volatile inflammable liquid, inasmuch as it gives off an inflammable vapor at a temperature below one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. This vapor when mixed with air in the proper proportion forms an explosive of great power. The vapor is about three times heavier than air, and possesses the property of hanging together and straterizing at the lowest part of a room. In still air it will run like water always finding the lowest level, and if it comes in contact with fire, has been known to flash back from a distance of sixty feet. Experience has proven that the underground system renders the storage of gasoline practically safe, the danger being in the handling largely. Underground tanks should be placed not less than two feet below the surface of the ground, and if within ten feet of a cellar or other open area which is below any part of the buried tank, it should be embedded in cement concrete, not less than ten inches in thickness. Such tanks should be constructed of steel plates from 3-16 to 1/4 inch in thickness, and should be well covered with asphaltum varnish to resist rust. Usually there are three leading from the top of the tank, the filler pipe, the draught-pipe and the vent pipe. The latter extends from the top of the tank to a point four feet above the roof of the building, and is considered necessary to conduct off the residual vapor in the tank which is forced out during the process of filling. In the drawing of gasoline from an underground tank by means of a pump, it is much better to use a pump that holds the gasoline in the draught pipe continuously, rather than one that allows it to run back into the tank, for in the latter case you are pumping
Chemist, Explosives and Inflammables, Massachusetts District Police. Read at Convention of Massachusetts State Firemen’s Association at Athol, Mass., September 24, 1914.
vapor for a short time before the gasoline liquid comes. The act of drawing gasoline front a pump and filling the tanks of cars by means of a hose or a can, through a funnel covered with chamois skin for the purpose of removing water and dirt from the gasoline, has been known to cause a number of fires by the generation of frictional electricity. For a long time mysterious tires occurring during this process of handling gasoline have been reported to our office. I was just skeptical then of the fact that these fires were caused by frictional electricity as the general public is now. During the early part of last April a fire occurred at the Cambridge garage of the Metropolitan Park Commission while they were filling a car with gasoline by pouring it into a funnel through a chamois skin strainer from a five-gallon can. To make the funnel set upright on the car tank, they had placed a piece of wood with a hole in it over the tiller hole of the tank, thereby insulating the funnel from the metal of the tank. After a few quarts of gasoline had passed through the chamois skin, the man happened to bring the pouring can near to the metal edge of the funnel, when a spark jumped from one to the other and set fire to the gasoline vapor rising therefrom. Quick action with extinguishers saved the car. The man insisted that he saw and heard the spark, and believed he could cause it again in my presence, so armed with a gold leaf electroscope used to show the presence of static electricity in any substance, I proceeded to make a number of tests. The officials of the Standard Oil Co., both in Boston and New York, as well as several engineers and technical men, were very much inclined to disbelieve what they termed a theory, so I invited them to be present. We imitated the conditions as they were at the time of the fire, except that we took it on the open floor of the garage. We caused the spark by simply pouring gasoline through a chamois skin covered funnel insulated from the floor, and all present saw it. A chauffeur in a private garage at Brookline hung a five-gallon can by the bail, on the hook of a common selfmeasuring pump, the bail having a wooden handle which insulated it from the metal of the pump. He had drawn about a gallon when a spark jumped from the can to the pump and set fire to the gasoline. He threw the can out of the open door and after extinguishing the fire and desiring to fill his car, he repeated the operation with the same can with the wooden handle, and it caught fire the second time. After that the man refused to go near the pump and went to a public garage to get his car filled. Not long after that another chauffeur in the same town proceeded to fill his car from a pump by means of a 16-foot rubber hose, to the end of which was fitted a nozzle shut-off of metal. While one man was doing the pumping, the other held the nozzle near the car tank, but did not bring it in actual contact. A spark, which he describes as half an inch long, jumped to the tank and set fire to the gasoline. Several fires have occurred recently at one of the Albany oil stations, evidently caused by the generation of frictional electricity in a canvas spout used to convey gasoline to tank cars. The canvas was covered with a coating of shellac, and the spout hung from an overhead pipe, the lower end being in or near the manhole of a tank car, but not touching the metal of the tank. Recent tests show that the friction of gasoline passing through this spout and rubbing against the shellac coating caused the generation of between 460 and 500 volts of electricity. On page 21 of the garage regulations of the District Police, I have called attention to this danger in the handling of gasoline and given a simple remedy therefor. Some cities and towns throughout the State have given permits for the erection and maintenance of gasoline pumps on public sidewalks near the curbstone. This is a matter which is not governed by District Police regulations at the present time. From a standpoint of safety and convenience, this method of dispensing a liquid which is in almost universal demand by the public cannot be seriously criticised. There is, however, another view to be taken of ‘it, and that is the legal responsibility of the city or town in case of accidental fire resulting in injury to passers-by, or to passing property on a public highway. The sanction by the city or town of the use of a public thoroughfare for the private dispensing of a dangerously inflammable liquid, might be held in court as incurring liability. The District Police have promulgated certain regulations governing garages, and the storage and handling of gasoline in connection therewith. As expected, these regulations have met with considerable opposition from a large majority of persons who are affected by them. I think, however, that taking into consideration the constant increase in motor vehicles and garages, the present dangerous condition of many public garages and repair shops from a fire hazard standpoint, and the increasing number of garage and automobile fires, that the fair-minded person will recognize in them a step in the right direction, in the interest of fire prevention. In the compilation of these regulations great difficulty arose in framing requirements to meet the varying conditions of city, town and country. Clauses which may seetn excessively stringent for the town, are possibly lacking in stringency when applied to the congested portions of some cities. In the next issue some sections will probably be amended to admit new inventions which have been tested out and pronounced adequate, and to meet the requirements of greater or lesser precautions. For example, the section requiring a chemical fire extinguisher of three gallons capacity for each one thousand square feet of floor surface, should, in my opinion, be amended to admit the small carbou tectrachloride extinguishers which are so effective on small gasoline fires. The location of one car wooden garages at twenty feet from any other building, could be lessened to twelve or fifteen feet in some localities, and provisions made to permit the location of one and two car garages, built of sheet iron supported on angle iron frame, at a distance of perhaps ten or twelve feet from any dwelling. The restriction on garages situated in dwelling houses will admit of some revision, and the method of heating garages may be broadened to admit some recent inventions in that line which seem to possess merit, and are under tests at the present time. I have been asked many times why we do not enforce the provisions of our regulations on fire stations containing motor apparatus. At the present time such buildings are exempt for much the same reason that such apparatus is not required to carry registration numbers. While there are many fire stations throughout the State that should be structurally improved for the housing of gasoline-driven fire apparatus in the same building with men and horses, we feel that the condition is vastly different from that of a dwelling inasmuch as the men who sleep there are trained fire fighters, accustomed to move quickly on the sound of a tapper, generally keep their heads in a fire, and in many stations there is a man on the floor night and day. I find a large number of garages and repair shops heated by coal stoves in the small towns. This is not only a violation of State regulations, but is a very dangerous method of heating. Too much importance cannot be attached to Section 31 of our regulations requiring all heating plants to be installed in separate fireproof rooms with an entrance from the outside only. The spectacle of a motor vehicle repair shop, all of wooden construction, with several cars therein undergoing repairs, a blacksmith’s forge in full operation near some of the cars, with men hurrying here and there fitting red hot pieces of iron to parts of running gear, a soldering kit on the bench with a gasoline torch busy raising the temperature of a soldering copper, together with one or two open tin pans on the floor part full of dirty gasoline which has been used to clean the grease out of a differential housing, are sights that are altogether too common in this Commonwealth and will have to be remedied by the first of next month. Chapter No. 5 of the regulations forbids the presence of open fire of any kind in a garage or a repair shop, and obliges this work to be done in a separate fireproof room either with an outside entrance, or with entrance to be gained through a vestibule ventilated to the open air. The only exception to this rule is the use of safety matches in a garage to light the lamps on a motor vehicle at night before going out. Gasoline cannot be kept, sold or used in a repair shop, but there is no objection to the installation of an underground tank in the open yard ten or twelve feet away, with pump above it properly sheltered from the weather. All electrical apparatus for the charging of electric vehicles, storage batteries or vulcanizing, or for any other purpose, if it is possible to obtain an exposed spark from any part of such apparatus, it must be placed in a separate room. Small vulcanizcrs for inner tube hatches which are operated by allowng a small quantity of gasoline to burn in an open cup, should also be placed in a separate room. Many repair shops are now placing all of the apparatus requiring fire for its operation in the same room with the steam or hot water heater, which is an excellent idea. The process of removing carbon from the explosion chambers of automobile engines by means of oxygen gas has become quite popular. It depends on a chemical union of the carbon and oxygen, forming carbonic acid gas which escapes in the air. This process should always be conducted out of doors, and all gasoline removed from the car before it is started. I hear many objections to the provisions of Section 19 forbidding pits in a garage or a repair shop. Floor pits for repair purposes form an excellent receptacle for gasoline vapor, and fires have occurred in them accompanied by personal injury. In the maintenance of a garage or a repair shop, great care should be exercised to prevent the escape of gasoline into the sewer. It is frequently used on cars in the wash stand to remove road oil and tar from the mudguards, and also to clean out grease packed receptacles of cars undergoing repairs. In both cases I have seen the refuse gasoline washed down the drain into the sewer. Gasoline vapor in the sewer was the cause of the terrible explosions at the Metropolitan Sewerage Pumping Station at East Boston last June, which caused the loss of eight lives and the destruction of a large amount of valuable property. The method of obtaining licenses and permits for garages outside of the Metropolitan District seems to be perplexing to quite a few, and if I am not occupying too much time, a few words of explanation may not be amiss. Any building or other structure which shelters one or more motor vehicles with gasoline in them, is considered a garage. A motor vehicle repair shop is considered a garage. All garages are obliged to have a license and a permit, except fifth-class garages as explained in Section 12 “e” of our regulations, and those exempted by the 1911 law, which I will explain later. Application is first made to the mayor and aldermen of a city, or the selectmen of a town for a license, and they notify all abutting property owners and other persons interested within a reasonable distance. At the expiration of fourteen days after the date of such notice, they hold a public hearing on your application, at which time and place anyone who so desires may appear and object. If there is no valid reason for rejection, your license is granted and you then make application for the permit to the local official in your own city or town, who is designated to grant such permits by the Chief of the District Police. This official is usually the Chief of the Fire Department. He will furnish you with a printed form for this purpose, and if, after due inspection, he finds the garage and the gasoline installation to be in accordance with the regulations, he will grant the permit, which with the license, should be framed under glass and posted up in the garage. A permit will not be issued until after a license has been granted. No license or permit is good for more than one year and at the expiration of that time you apply again to the mayor and aldermen or the selectmen as the case may be, for a registration of your license which is practically a renewal. They will give you a certificate of registration to fill out, certifying your intention to occupy the premises as a garage for another year, and this paper is kept on file at their office. They will then issue the registration. After receiving this you apply to the designated local official again and go through the same thing for your permit. Both registrations are then framed and posted, same as the original license and permit. The law allows them to charge one dollar for each license and one dollar for each permit, and a further charge of fifty cents for the registration of each license and permit at the expiration of each year. Chapter 477 of the Acts of 1911 is sometimes called the exemption law. It allows the keeping or housing of not more than two motor vehicles with gasoline in them, in any building that was in existence before July 1, 1911, without any license or permit, provided that such building is not used in any part as a human habitation, or for holding gatherings of, or giving entertainments, instructions or employment to more than twenty persons. If there is any gasoline supply in the building other than what is in the motor vehicles, then a license and a permit will have to be obtained for that. If conditions exist in that building which are liable to cause fire, then action may be taken under Chapter 32 of the Revised Laws and the hazard abated.