Anyone who has ever survived a vehicle fire — whether the result of a car, truck or motorcycle accident, or because of a defective vehicle component – can truly be considered lucky. It’s one thing to be injured in a traffic collision and have to wait for emergency personal or EMS crews to rescue that person from a disables vehicle, but to be trapped or otherwise unable to get away from a burning passenger car or commercial vehicle is an ordeal not soon forgotten.
As Maryland personal injury lawyers, I and my staff have viewed the aftermath of enough car and truck fires to understand the devastating potential that a vehicular conflagration can present. With gallons of gasoline or diesel fuel leaking from a fuel tank or fuel line, the simplest spark from static electricity or other source can ignite the flammable liquid, causing the entire vehicle to be engulfed in flames within mintues, of not seconds.
Time is of the essence in situations like this. Police and firefighters know the dangers, but will risk their own lives to rescue a helpless occupant of a burning sedan, minivan or sport utility vehicle. It’s just another example of the selfless sacrifice witnessed everyday across this country.
Although car accidents are one such cause of vehicle fires, there are others; such as fires at gasoline pump islands at service stations. While gas stations are designed for maximum safety, it doesn’t take much for a simple accident — such as a pump not shutting off automatically — to result in pouring several quarts of volatile fuel onto a vehicle and its driver.
We see more and more gas stations equipped with fire extinguishing systems to help protect customers in such instances. We recall an incident a couple years back when a 26-year-old man from Germantown, MD, died as a result of severe burns he received during in a fire at a gas pump island in Frederick. On that occasion, the driver was outside of his vehicle pumping fuel into his SUV when for some reason a fire broke out, engulfing the man, his vehicle and the gasoline pump.
It’s true that close to one million people annually are victims of gasoline fires. And although a large percentage of those individuals survive their ordeal, more than one percent die as a result of their injuries. Of that group, one-third of those individuals are killed as a direct result of the burns to their body, while the other two-thirds succumb to complications due to serious infections of their wounds.
Naturally, a gas station must be one of the worst places to have a fire break out; the proximity of people, cars and large amounts of very flammable fuel makes for a dangerous and sometimes fatal combination. Sadly, gas station fires are not that uncommon.
People have been known to be killed in the resulting fire after when a vehicle inadvertently crashes into a gasoline pump. With self-serve gas a common theme, the public has for decades now been exposed to the dangerous combination of fuel and cars, making for deadly results under the right circumstances.
As motorists, it’s important to following the safety rules posted at every gas pump. More than one person has been killed or permanently disfigured due to a fire that was ignited by the careless use of cigarette lighters and matches at a fueling station. Innocent people have been killed and injured many times over due to the carelessness or negligence of other drivers who fail to obey the simple, yet critical safety procedures at gas pump islands.