What we are experiencing probably qualifies as a shakedown ‘cruise’ of sorts.
Right off the bat a lost or misplaced credit card and the attendent scramble to have a new one mailed and myriad billing accounts changed. Daily use items becoming lost and then found all within the confines of the camper. Mercedes Benz service in Savannah after being refused by Freightliner north of Savannah for a possible shot wheel bearing. Having to replace the tow car wiring harness (thank you very much to the young man and avid duck hunter behind the parts counter at Camping World at x102 on I-95 north of Savannah). Lots of relearning of old habits and behavior patterns.
A couple weeks into this shakedown ‘cruise’ we headed out from Hunting Island SP east of Beaufort, SC looking for propane, diesel and a place to watch the Pats game. Well beyond the swing bridge over Johnson’s Creek at the four-way light that is the town of Frogmore on St Helena Island we found an AmeriGas propane tank at a gas station-convenience store. A diesel pump too but equipped with the larger highway truck nozzle. Should have taken that as a sign and moved on, but no.
The attendant hooked up the brass fittings and hose and after some fumbling amd false starts filled up our propane tank: 8 1/2 pounds. In the process of removing the fittings and releasing the pressure the brass fittings became so cold that he needed to stop and get his propane gloves. Upon proceeding with the uncoupling the steady and forceful release of propane gas and vapors never stopped. The release was shut down, brows were knit and furrowed. Another attempt at uncoupling with the same cold release with no decrease in pressure. The one-way valve entering our tank was ‘frozen’ open. As it was a busy afternoon the attendant returned to the store to assist at the counter and call the propane company. The dispatcher was of no real assistance and made no claims nor promises as to when a service technician could or would respond.
A local ‘guy’ with propane tech experience was called and the store’s owner, the attendant’s father was called as well. Along the way the attendant was advised to use a rubber mallet to tap the fittings and valves hoping to res-eat the ‘frozen’ valve. After countless taps and that soon became whacks to the targeted valve and numerous uncoupling attempts the propane presence was thick and heavy. Mind you this is a six island gas station in the middle of a rural but close crossroads community. We went indoors to check out the Pats game. No luck there either as neither the Charlestown or Savannah stations were carrying that game.
The local propane ‘guy’ and the father arrived almost simultaneously. Father did not seem to have a smile. The local ‘guy’ chose to tap and whack with an extra brass fitting as opposed to the rubber mallet: different medium same lack of result. Father frowned and the local ‘guy’ opined that neither rubber-on-brass or brass-on-brass would cause an inferno inducing spark. All chuckles and smiles. Everyone retired back into the store. By this time Ameri-Gas had been called numerous times, corporate and regional: no real encouragement from the dispatcher and no contact from a service tech. We were always left with the sense that someone was on their way eventually. Not so. Unbeknownst to our increasingly frustrated working group, somewhere along the line the request of AmeriGas had been recorded as a service request and no one was going to respond until the beginning of the work week.
So we stood and waited for an AmeriGas service tech that was not coming.
The day lengthened. Our noonish arrival became a show of late afternoon patience. Somewhere in the mix I told the attendant I did not care whether I left with a tank of propane or not but that I needed to leave. He assured me that when the traffic died down he would take care of me. As dusk approached we found ourselves attempting to release that tank-full of propane. I was asked to do match, lighter and cigarette control. This I did amidst what had become the cloying stench of propane. Mind you, this is the south, the rural south and smoking is common here. Someone had the sense to call the fire department and told the store folks that that was his intent.
Shortly the Lady’s Island St Helena Fire District showed up with lights flashing and low-toned sirens. Local police arrived as well and the focus shifted abruptly from ‘let’s get out of here’ to ‘let’s be safe and think this through’. The area was cordoned off but commerce was allowed to continue at the gas pumps and the convenience store. Local police called AmeriGas and lit the ‘proverbial’ fires with the dispatchers involved. This produced results which would not have been forthcoming otherwise. The ‘service request’ quickly and appropriately became an emergency response need in the dispatcher’s eyes and ears.
LISHFD’s focus was soley on safety and preparing for the worst case. They did this with patience and aplomb. It was interesting to watch them work the scene. Chuck (Morgan I believe) and his sidekick ‘TJ’ were patient, not looking to point fingers or assign blame. They were quick to define what their responsibilities and goals were and what they felt Ameri-Gas’ responsibilities should be. They handled people well. After dark an Ameri-Gas service tech and a front-office person arrived. They happened to be a husband and wife team. The same rubber mallet tap-and-whack routine was employed. During the ensuing uncoupling attempts the on-off, open-and-close valve beyond the ‘frozen’ valve in the tank became ‘frozen’ open as well.
A bad situation became worse from a safety standpoint but the situation was hissing and blowing, blowing and hissing it’s way towards a conclusion. With time the cloying scent of propane became stronger while the sound of the releasing propane diminished. The tank was hissing towards empty. Lady’s Island St Helena Fire District reinforcements arrived: a couple more trucks and the shift chief. Control of the scene shifted and was exercised once again. The public were like moths to a flame with the lights and activity. People were drawn as opposed to being cautioned away.
Ameri-Gas was waiting for another service tech to arrive with vaunted ‘walk-away’ valves. That had an intimidating feel to it: ‘walk-away’ as opposed to what?
Upon the ‘walk-away’ tech’s arrival the control of the scene shifted once again. It was all Ameri-Gas at this point with LISHFD and civilians retreating to the far edges of the affected area. A metal hammer was called for!?! No rubber mallet here. Some good strong whacks at the suspect valve with no positive results. With some ‘pissin’ and moanin’ ‘ the valves and line were forcibly removed and a ‘walk-away’ valve was applied. The leak was quelled and the new valve held.
Seven hours after our arrival the propane tank was filled. After some thank-yous and glad-handing by all we drove off into the night.
No consolation either: the Pats lost to the Dolphins.
Take away: call police and the fire department right away.
Thank you Lady’s Island St Helena Fire District!!