Mitch Stefanek and his wife, Heather, could have been sleeping on a bomb.
Fortunately the seasoned campers knew that handled carelessly, or over-filled, propane tanks can be very dangerous, and lodged a complaint with Technical Safety BC (formerly BC Safety Authority), who is now investigating a recent incident.
On July 10, the Stefaneks stopped at a popular gas station on the east end of Highway 1 in Kamloops to get the under-mount propane tank on their motorhome filled.
Mitch says the attendant, who had recently transferred from one of the company’s other 21 outlets in B.C., was talkative and seemed unskilled right from the get-go, failing to wear protective gloves when handling the propane hose.
The attendant’s next fail was not opening a spit valve on the tank before filling it and Mitch assumed there was some kind of new feature on the hose that would automatically stop when the tank reached the standard 80 per cent full line.
He explains that the spit valve rises up to force air out of the tank. When the tank is filled to 80 per cent, the valve spits out a little bit of the liquid propane to indicate the process is complete. The attendant turns off the hose and then the spit valve is shut off.
“He just pumped and pumped and pumped liquid propane into the tank, filling it up as if it was a gas pump on a vehicle, not a propane tank.”
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Mitch was further surprised that his bill was $45 when he normally pays $25 for a fill. He became immediately alarmed when he returned to his motorhome to discover a gauge indicated his tank was now over-filled by 50 per cent.
“I said ‘my tank is super over-filled,’ but he said ‘no problem,’” adds Mitch, who then got the same response from the ‘main person’ at the retail outlet’s till, who dismissed a request to bleed the tank to a safe level.
Rather than argue, Mitch and Heather drove to Can West Gas on the Yellowhead Highway, a place they had patronized with satisfaction in the past.
“He said it was very dangerous,” Mitch said, noting the proprietor had him take his motorhome around the back of the station well away from gas pumps and other vehicles. “He connected a large propane torch directly to the tank and was blasting away for more than 20 minutes.”
Mitch says, if one assumes the safety (spit) valve was working properly, increased altitude or temperature could have resulted in the release of propane from the tank trailing along the road behind and possibly blowing the gas over to the muffler, igniting a fire.
“The worst-case scenario is the tank explodes,” says Mitch, noting the Can West operators refused to accept payment for service. “When we asked why, they told us that they receive probably a dozen incidents like this a year where gas stations using untrained or poorly trained attendants substantially overfill propane tanks and felt this was a community service they were willing to provide.”
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A Jan. 27, 2017 Technical Safety BC directive spells out the requirements for safe handling of propane tanks:
“Propane shall only be transferred from one container to another by an individual that is the holder of an applicable certificate of qualification recognized by the authority having jurisdiction.”
Furthermore, the directive states that training must be delivered by “individuals certified, authorized or employed by the related training body or provider” that have been approved by a provincial safety manager.
Laura McLeod, acting communications and media relations team leader, says a Technical Safety BC safety officer has been assigned to investigate the incident.
In the meantime, Mitch wonders how many untrained or unskilled attendants across the province are putting people’s lives in jeopardy.