If you work with agricultural products and equipment, you may have heard of the dangers of fuel geysering. This phenomenon can cause serious injury, but not many people know what it is. A fuel geyser, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, is “the rapid and energetic expulsion of heated fuel in a closed container when a fuel container is quickly depressurized. Heat and agitation causes the pressure increase. A delayed fuel geyser can occur after the fuel container is opened.” Fuel geysering can happen with any kind of agricultural equipment or products that tend to overheat. Historically, this occurs in lawn equipment and large agricultural equipment like tractors. However, recently fuel geysering has begun to surface in other equipment such as chainsaws and small lawn equipment.
In the tractor industry, it began in the 1950s with International Harvester, amongst other agriculturally-focused companies, and the shotgun style assembly of a tractor. A fuel geysering incident would start when the radiator fan would blow heat from the engine onto the gas tank, which was right in front of the driver. At that point in time, none of the caps were appropriately vented. They would over pressurize and either the caps would come loose, or they would be taken off.
When a vehicle, chainsaw, lawn tractor or any kind of piece of lawn equipment began to over pressurize, it would stall out or choke because it couldn’t receive the appropriate amount of oxygen to function correctly. As a consequence, most people, because there’s no warning in the product manual or piece of equipment itself, would put their hand on the cap to check it. They would then turn it, and it would be so overly pressurized, the cap would come flying off. They would be showered, and if a spark occurred (from the spark plug, the arc from the cabling on the vehicle, or any number of things), they would ignite and suffer horrible burns.
It was so prevalent in the early part of the 1980s that the Federal Trade Commission sued International Harvester for the fuel geysering phenomenon for their active knowledge yet continued manufacturing of tractors that had a tendency to do this.
In 2018, there were 28 instances of fuel geysering across the country. The most recent incidences of fuel geysering are repeatedly occurring in California, where firefighters are battling forest fires. Their work creates a perfect storm for fuel geysering. Firefighters use their chainsaws to cut down objects while surrounded by fire, and the gas tanks that are near the engines on the chainsaws can overheat internally and due to the surrounding environment. These chainsaws aren’t prepared to appropriately adjust to the fuel pressure.
As a consequence, they are overheating completely. It isn’t difficult to imagine a scenario where a firefighter finds him or herself in a position of relative safety and decides to take off their mask to check their chainsaw. Once they remove the cap, it sprays them with gas and ignites, causing severe burns.
Years ago, manufacturers began to implement gas caps that would vent in a multitude of different ways. The current issue is that appropriate testing doesn’t take place, and tanks overheat more rapidly than they can vent, resulting in fuel geysers. Today’s manufacturers are assembling the caps and chainsaws, amongst other products, and are failing to warn the users about this issue. It’s a significant problem that has gone overlooked for quite some time, and it’s been in existence for almost 50 years. It has been more prevalent in older lawn equipment and modern chainsaws, as well as small lawn equipment like riding lawn mowers, zero-turn mowers, and other various pieces of machinery.
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