When I worked at the fuel center, we used safety cones whenever we needed to block a pump because it wasn’t working correctly or a fuel spill needed to be cleaned. Some of the cones were yellow with the word “caution” spelled out on the sides. The other cones were standard orange and had no words on them.
Whenever there was a fuel spill, the first thing I did was grab three cones and use them to block the area in front of the pump where the fuel was. This way, if I couldn’t clean the spill immediately, I could at least try to keep people from driving through the fuel and transferring it all over the concrete.
Of course, our customers were an independent bunch. If some folks saw a pump blocked off but couldn’t see any problem, they’d simply move the cones so they could get to the pump. It’s true, I’d usually cleaned the fuel by that time, and the cones were there to keep people away while the cleaning solution dried, but I admit I got a wee bit pissy when customers moved those cones. Didn’t they know this was my fuel center? I was a fuel center professional. It was my job to decide when a pump was ready to be used again. Such a decision could not be left to mere amateurs.
Sometimes people wouldn’t even move the cones in front of a pump with a problem. If the cones were close to the pump, the customer could park on the side of them and stretch the hose to the opening of their fuel tank. I learned quickly to place cones about three feet from the problematic pump and use three of them to make an obvious barricade. A vehicle three feet from a pump was in the travel lane and in the way of other customers trying to get in or out of the fuel center. Most people were not going to risk the wrath of other customers by blocking them due to parking three feet from the pump.
I also learned quickly to put an “out of order” bag over the nozzle of any pump that was not working. While people often tried to ignore cones, I never saw anyone take an “out of order” bag off a nozzle and attempt to pump gas or diesel. Cones may not have been always taken seriously, but “out of order” bags were apparently gospel.
Sometimes a pump’s problem led to leaking fuel. In such a case, I had to shut the power off to the pump to stop the flow of fuel. Each fueling station had a pump on either side. Pumps 1 and 2 shared a fueling station, as did 3 and 4, 5 and 6, etc. Each pump had two nozzles; one provided gasoline, and the other provided diesel or flex fuel. The way the pumps were wired, it was impossible to cut the power to just one of them. If I shut off the power at the breaker box, the pumps on both sides of the fueling station were off.
At one point during my short fuel center career, pump 4 started leaking diesel. When I flipped the breaker to shut off power at pump 4, all four nozzles on pumps 3 and 4 stopped working. I took four “out of service” bags outside and placed them over all the nozzles on pumps 3 and 4. After the nozzles were bagged, I dragged over six cones and created blockades in front of both pumps.
Communicating the out-of-orderness of pumps 3 and 4 was for the convenience of the customers. No one wants to waste time pulling up to a pump, getting out of the vehicle, (and knowing my customers probably trying to shove a debit or credit card into a nonfunctioning machine) only to find the pump down. After discovering a pump was nonfunctional, the customer would have had to get back in the vehicle and drive to another pump and maybe have to wait in line. It was much more considerate to let people know right away which pumps were not working.
Pumps 3 and 4 were down for several days as we waited for a repair person to come out and fix the leaky diesel nozzle. After a couple of days, one of the cones in front of pump 3 was removed for use elsewhere in the fuel center. The two remaining cones had been pushed closer and closer to the pump. I should have recognized that the cones needed to be pulled away from the pump to make them more noticeable, but it was a busy afternoon, and the prominent display of safety cones was not at the forefront of my attention.
I saw the Jeep pull up next to pump 3, but I didn’t think much about it. Sometimes people parked next to closed pumps if they didn’t want fuel but wanted to buy cigarettes or a soda or snacks. Honestly, it was only way back in my mind that I remembered pump 3 was offline. The cones blocking the pump had faded into the fuel center scenery.
The woman who’d parked next to pump 3 approached the kiosk where I stood behind bulletproof glass. I hit the button on the intercom that allowed me to speak to the outside world.
Hi! How can I help you today? I greeted her.
I need $10 on pump 3, the woman answered.
I glanced over at my POS (point-of-sale) screen to check on the availability of pump 3. I’d gotten in the habit of checking the screen immediately after customers told me what pump they were on so I could insure there was no problem with the pump in question. I also checked to make sure no funds were already authorized on the pump. Of course, when I check on pump 3, the screen told me it and pump 4 were offline and unavailable.
I was momentarily confused since I’d mostly forgotten that pump 3 was not functioning. Why had this lady even chosen pump 3 if it was out of order? Were the “out of order” bags gone? Did cones no longer blocked off the pump?
I glanced over at pump 3. There was an “out of order” bag on each nozzle. Two tall yellow cones were in front of the pump, but pushed up close to it. The woman had parked her Jeep next to the cones which were between the vehicle and the pump.
Pump 3 is not working, I told the woman.
She looked at me blankly.
That’s why the cones are there, I told her. I was unable to keep the you are an idiot tone out of my voice.
The woman stared at me with a What am I going to do? look on her face.
You’ll have to go to another pump, I told her.
Maybe the woman didn’t notice the cones. As I said, they had been pushed over, so they were not directly in front of her vehicle as she drove up to the pump. However, they were definitely in front of the pump. They were yellow. The word “caution” was printed on them. They were difficult to miss. Besides, if she didn’t see the cones, both fuel dispensing nozzles were marked “out of order.” How did she miss all the signs?
When I drive into a gas station, I’m alert. I’m looking around to see what fueling stations are available, looking for other vehicles, cones, and bagged nozzles. If I end up at a pump with bagged nozzles, I notice before I get out of my truck and move to a different pump.
I believe these days this noticing of my surroundings is referred to as situational awareness. I am aware of my situation. My late father would have called this getting my head out of my ass.
Apparently many customers entered the fuel center where I worked with their heads firmly in their asses. I suppose they pulled in at any pump where there wasn’t an obstacle directly in their path and hoped for the best.