Patrons must be alert at gas pumps

Fort Lee Fire Department and DPW Environmental Management Division personnel clean up a fuel spill that recently occurred at the AAFES gas station as a result of a patron walking away while his vehicle was being filled with gas. The pump handle did not switch off, and roughly 20 gallons were spilled. The cost of cleanup was over $2,000, and could have been greater had it entered the nearby storm drain.

FORT LEE, Va. – Many daily tasks become so routine that people tend to not even think about them or consider their potentially negative consequences.

Turning the ignition key to a vehicle is one example. Individuals automatically assume the engine will start and don’t give it a second thought until it doesn’t. It’s usually assumed our routine trips to and from work each day will be incident-free until an accident occurs as a result of someone not paying attention.

Typically, “automatic” activities only cause a minor inconvenience when they go wrong, but sometimes can lead to a chain of events that can be dangerous and potentially cost the careless individual money or even their life, as well as potentially endangering others.

A recent event on Fort Lee illustrates this point. A customer at the AAFES gas station along A Avenue stopped to gas up his car. He scanned his credit card, placed the nozzle in the filler port and locked the handle so he could so he could go into the store and shop while filling the tank.

Unfortunately, things did not go as planned.

When the gas tank is full, the force of the escaping air is supposed to deactivate the handle, but this time, it didn’t. Gas began running out onto the ground and flowing toward a storm drain. Fortunately, the AAFES staff shut off the pump, blocked the gas flow on the ground and kept it from entering the drainage system that channels rainwater into Bailey Creek.

The Fort Lee Fire Department and DPW’s Environmental Management Division responded for the cleanup effort that had a total cost of just over $2,000. The customer was not charged for the recovery fee, but he did have a much larger gas bill than he thought, as he was responsible for the 20 gallons spilled.

It should be noted, however, that if the fuel had made it to Bailey Creek, the cost for cleanup would have been significantly greater and may have included fines from the state and/or the EPA. Fortunately, the AAFES team did a great job and Fort Lee avoided a major environmental violation.

Furthermore, this incident was not a first-time event. A similar incident occurred in December, also caused by a gas station patron locking the refueling handle and walking away. Two gallons of fuel were spilled, but the cost for response and disposal were similar. Again, the experienced team at AAFES, the fire department and EMD personnel did an outstanding job on containing it and keeping it out of the storm drain.

What can we learn from these accounts?

First, pay attention to what you do, even if you’ve done it hundreds of times and nothing went wrong. Each gas pump has a label stating the customer must remain with the vehicle when refueling.

Second, pay attention to where the large red emergency shut off buttons and spill kits at each dispenser island are located. Anyone can deploy spill materials and call for help. 

Finally, if there is a spill, report it immediately so it is properly and safely cleaned up.  Do not move vehicles that have spilled fuel on them.  Call 911 for the fire department to ensure safety, then call the Installation Operations Center at 804-734-1586.

The EMD team reminds everyone in the Fort Lee community to practice environmental safeguards at all times, on- and off-duty. In addition to fuel spills, any type of storm drain runoff other than rainwater can cause harm to local waterways. Home car washing, irresponsible dumping of trash and improper disposal of hazardous/toxic chemical substances all contribute to this problem.

For more tips, contact Dina Huynh at 804-734-5061 or To report a suspected illicit discharge, call the EMD Compliance Team at 804-734-3760 or 734-3772. Storm-water inlets across the installation have been marked with special labels to remind everyone that “only rain should go down the drain.”