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THMG009 – Leaking Fuel Tanks


In this episode, Mike and Bob discuss removing fuel from leaking tanks.

Complete Show Notes

6:40 Leaking Fuel Tanks are Important!

  • Hazmat crews typically spend 60-65% of their time on the job dealing with leaking fuel tanks
  • Nobody comes after hazmat – so if you can’t handle it, nobody can

7:25 What’s Leaking and Why?

  • Was there an accident? Roll over? Did someone drive over something? Is it just age and rot?
  • Is the vehicle parked? Is it on or off? The ignition should always be off and the vehicle in park
  • Make sure the wheels are chocked and the emergency break is on

8:05 What to Look For

  • What you’re taking fuel from – car, truck, locomotive, airplane, etc.
  • The age of what you’re taking fuel from – this tells you where the tank is probably located
  • What kind of fuel cell is in the vehicle – sponges, baffles, open tanks, etc.
  • Construction of the tank – poly/plastic tank vs. metal tank

10:45 Differences Between Older and Newer Vehicles

  • Older vehicles often can’t be siphoned from the fill pipe
  • Newer vehicles may have fuel tanks molded around other parts, so they can be harder to siphon
  • Tanks come in all different sizes based on the age of the vehicle

13:10 At the Scene

  • Gather as much information as possible en route
  • How is the car sitting in the road? Is it against a curb, in the middle of the street, etc.? Focus on safety!
  • Start by finding the lowest point in the tank – this is your puncture point
  • Kneel on a bag so the spill doesn’t get onto your clothing
  • Check for manholes, sewers, and storm drains – you don’t want fuel flowing towards those areas

16:05 What’s in the Tank?

  • Most commonly, it’s diesel, gasoline, or biodiesel
  • Can also be hydraulic fluid, but those tanks are often stouter and contained in the frames

16:30 Handling the Spill

  • Operational level – look at chemical and physical properties to determine how to proceed
  • Gasoline (flash point of -44 degrees F) easily catches fire, while diesel (flash point of 140 degrees F) does not
  • Protection – always have your PPE, charged hose line, and foam operation

19:05 Product Control

  • You can use disposable pop-up pools, 5-gallon buckets, or anything else to catch the fuel – doesn’t have to be pretty
  • Use gel pads to block grates and drains; you can also use garbage bags/tarps and dirt if you don’t have anything else on hand
  • Damming and diking also helps because you can control and direct the flow of fuel

22:30 Fuel Removal

  • Do you need to facilitate the fuel removal, or is it taking care of itself? In other words, are you making a hole or are you not making a hole?
  • It’s important to balance risk and reward when making these decisions
  • Puncturing
    • You can make your own tools for this – Bob’s creation was a scissor jack with a spike
    • Easily rips through poly, aluminum, and steel
    • Pros – simple to use, you’re away from danger if it flashes, small hole means smaller fuel release, easier to pump and overpack, you’re away from being crushed by the vehicle
    • Cons – you can leave the tip up in the tank, leaves an irregular hole that could be hard to patch, can be hard to hit the right spot
  • Drilling
    • Use a drill with a straight bit or a hole saw to drill/punch a hole in the tank – don’t use a speed bit with a ferrous metal
    • You must have full PPE on, and air tools are a must to reduce the risk of flashing vapor
    • Pros – quick, clean hole, everything empties out, can be plugged easily
    • Cons – can become contaminated by the product, might also have an egress problem
  • Siphoning
    • Works well with large trucks and tractor trailers – anti-siphon devices can easily be removed
    • Next to impossible to siphon fuel from most modern cars and pickup trucks
    • You may also be able to cut the fill line from behind the wheel well, but this often isn’t possible

37:10 What Happens After the Puncture?

  • Get into the drum or container you’re using to hold the fuel – this should occur at the same time you’re setting up fuel evacuation
  • You’ll need a pump – there are three varieties
  • Dragen (style) air pump
    • These aren’t made anymore – essentially Venturi-based pumps
    • High-flow air pump that creates a strong vacuum
    • Used to negatively impact the pressure inside of a drum
    • Extremely fast and good for dirty environments
    • Dual Force dragen pumps allow you to pull a vacuum through Venturi, or you can change it into a pressurization tool
    • Make sure your system is set up prior to puncturing if you’re using air tools
    • Cons – pump pulls vapors out of the drum that can ignite, these tools can also be finicky, rust can occur in fine holes of pump
  • Patay (brand) diaphragm pump
    • Manual diaphragm-based pump
    • No need for air or electric power, so there’s no issue with flammable vapors
    • Quick and easy to set up
    • Cons – can fail in a dirty (sandy or gritty) product, large quantities of fuel can burn through manpower, must decon pump afterwards
  • If you need to reduce vapors in order to save a product, try to reduce the surface area of the spill – try emulsifiers or coverings

45:20 Metering and Safety

  • Like so many flammables, it’s all about LEL and UEL – always meter near the tank
  • No need to meter in the tank because it’s probably way too rich
  • Always meter near the pump site since that’s where much of the action is occurring
  • Charge a hose line and get a foam line in place if the fuel is spread over a large area
  • Wear your SCBA and full PPE and always create a means of egress

49:00 Final Cleanup Steps

  • Put everything into a drum – overpack it
  • Speedy Dry – then, use salvage bags or pigs to block up and soak up anything Speedy Dry missed
  • Seal the drums
  • Make the proper notifications – DEP, DEC, Coast Guard, etc. depending on the situation

Have a question? Send an email to feedback@thehazmatguys.com or leave a message on our Haz Mat Guys comment hotline: 843-628-1484

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