A video is making the rounds on social media showing the moment a gas station’s fire suppression system malfunctioned, blanketing cars and the surrounding area in powder. It’s an old video, but still a good look into something most people will hopefully never have to witness.
The video getting passed around sites like TikTok shows the moment the fire suppression system malfunctioned at a fuel station in Quincy, Massachusetts and deployed a cloud of powder.
In July 2020, suppressant covered cars, the people fueling them and even a nearby street creating quite the mess, reports CBS Boston. The scene is pretty chaotic. You can see someone run away from the cloud and even the Mitsubishi at the street corner inches forward.
Thankfully, nobody was seriously injured, so this is a good demonstration of how these systems work.
Peer up at a gas station’s canopy and you might see that some stations have have nozzles pointed at you while others don’t.
If they are there, what you’re looking at is an automatic fire suppression system. These systems are made up of canisters full of a chemical agent that deploys when thermal detectors sense a fire. From there, it sends a signal to a control panel, sending another signal to another panel that sends compressed nitrogen to actuate the cylinders.
Monroe Extinguisher has a handy animation showing the anatomy of their system:
This system works together with other safety measures like an automatic fuel shut-off to not just extinguish fires, but to ensure additional fuel isn’t getting added.
Gas station fire suppression systems often deploy a sodium bicarbonate-based dry-chemical agent. Sodium bicarbonate (also known as baking soda) combines with an acidic ingredient to release carbon dioxide as it heats up. Good for smothering a car or gas pump fire under the canopy.
Other dry-chemical agents that you might see out there are potassium bicarbonate or monoammonium phosphate.
If you’ve looked up and noticed that the stations in your area don’t have this nifty system, you’re not alone. Local and state governments have different regulations on when and where the systems should be installed.
Getting covered in this stuff can cause irritation and shortness of breath, among other things, but is less harmful than it looks. Still, if you’ve ever used a fire extinguisher, you know that this stuff gets everywhere. I’m pretty sure I still have fire extinguisher powder covering something after I used one months ago.
The cause of the malfunction was never revealed, but the Quincy Police Department did have jokes about it not actually snowing in July. Hopefully nobody had their car doors open when this system malfunctioned.