Service station worker averts disaster

19:55, Mar 19 2014
BP, hamilton
OUT OF LINE: A petrol pump was attacked and a fire was started on the forecourt of BP Whitiora in Hamilton on Tuesday night.

What started off as a normal sole-charge evening shift for an attendant at a Hamilton service station quickly changed when a man set fire to a car and assaulted another man on the forecourt, it was reported.

And police have credited the Whitiora BP staff member's quick response with "averting a potential disaster".

About 10pm on Tuesday, a man said to be armed with a knife came onto the forecourt at the northern Victoria St station.

Police were told he attacked a petrol bowser and then used the fuel hose's metal nozzle to damage a car parked on the forecourt, Detective Sergeant Andrew Mortimore of the Hamilton CIB said. "He has then used fuel from the pump to try and start a fire on the forecourt before setting fire to the interior of another car."

The staff member quickly shut off fuel to the pump, and emergency services arrived about 12 minutes later.

The staff member, who cannot be named at BP's request, was the sole attendant on duty and Mr Mortimore said his actions averted a "major incident". But the attendant, when asked through a BP communications adviser how he felt about the praise, did not know how to answer.


When the incident happened the attendant was behind locked doors and the station was running on the night pay system with a steady flow of customers.

"I felt safe, but I was extremely worried about the customers. Most concerning was customer safety," he said in a written response.

The first sign something was wrong was when the man arrived on foot and began "playing with the handles without either a car or fuel container", he said.

Other people were around the area at the time.

The man then "tried to set a pump alight and also attempted to set fire to a customer's car at the fill point, carried a knife and damaged customer vehicles", the attendant said.

Despite the erratic actions his body language remained calm, as if he was going about his normal business.

The attendant switched straight into company emergency procedures by switching off fuel to the pump, which did not appear to concern the man.

The attendant also used the intercom to tell customers arriving at the site to leave.

The man stayed on site for 12 minutes and only ran off southwards down Victoria St when police and the fire brigade arrived, leaving the attendant relieved no-one had been hurt.

In his 2 years working in a service station, the only other time he'd had to shut off fuel to a pump was in company training.

And while he had a day off yesterday, he was due back on deck today.

Mr Mortimore said the staff member's actions avoided what could have been a "major incident".

"The attendant was able to automatically stop the flow of fuel to that pump thereby minimising the potential risk and responding police and firefighters were able to extinguish the fires."

A man was caught by police a short time later on the grounds of a nearby supermarket.

He may face charges, depending the outcome of a psychiatric assessment.

Waikato Times