Spreading the word
The experience also gave her something else—a determination to prevent it from happening to others. "Had I known what was going to happen, I would have left the nozzle in the vehicle,” she says. “But your gut reaction is to pull it out. People who've left the nozzle in haven't been hurt or had equipment damage. It's those who take the nozzle out who get into trouble.”
Last summer, her determination paid off when Purdue Extension launched “Dos and Don'ts at the Gas Pump,” a curriculum designed to promote safety and prevent static electricity fires. “Cathy approached me about doing a program, and, although it isn't a consumer and family sciences topic per se, we decided to go ahead with it,” says April Mason, assistant director of Purdue Extension for consumer and family sciences. “It's an important topic that people need to now about.”
What followed was a series of presentations, newspaper articles, and radio and television interviews to spread the word about safety at the gas pump. These efforts coincided with national media attention as other, similar stories came to light. “This fire was a situation that I didn't know could happen, and I wanted to make people aware of it,” Burkett says. “Few people knew of this danger or that 78 percent of these fires happen to women.”
To date, she has given more than 25 presentations and shared her story with thousands more through the media, and the curriculum is used throughout the state by Purdue Extension educators. A nozzle manufacturer from Cincinnati has expressed interest in distributing the video portion of the curriculum. The company plans to distribute 26,000 copies of a video, which includes footage produced by Purdue's Department of Agricultural Communication, to schools, gas stations and other locations.
Nationwide, gas stations and equipment manufacturers have started putting stickers on pumps, alerting consumers to the danger of static electricity. According to Burkett, the National Fire Protection Association recently approved new warning labels, and the National Fire Code now requires additional warnings on pumps.
There is no statute that requires static electricity fires to be reported, so the exact number that occurs each year is unknown. However, the Petroleum Equipment Institute collects and publishes voluntary reports on its Web site. Experts cite pay-at-the-pump technology, synthetic clothing and seat covers, and more electronic devices in vehicles as possible reasons for an increase in static electricity fires.
Even though she has since retired from Purdue Extension, Burkett remains committed to the project, still traveling to talk to groups on the topic. “I want to tell people about it so they can be aware of what can happen,” she says. “Many of them go home and share the story with their loved ones.”
And, while reliving the experience can be unpleasant, she understands the value of what others can learn from an Extension educator who became an Extension lesson.
Dos and Don'ts at the Gas Pump
The “Dos and Don'ts at the Gas Pump” curriculum includes the following components:
• Lesson plan
• PowerPoint presentation with speaker's notes
• Pre- and post-evaluations
A companion video also is available. For more information about static electricity fires and the curriculum, visit the “Dos and Don'ts at the Gas Pump” Web site.