A new government mandate just went into effect on July 1, 2001, stipulating that all new bulk propane delivery trucks be equipped with an emergency remote shutdown device. Existing equipment must also be retrofitted, and fleets have until July 1, 2006, to be in compliance.
For Ferrellgas, a large propane distributor based in Liberty, MO, the new regulation will affect nearly 2,000 delivery vehicles in the fleet. Fleet manager Scott Beeson says that while the new mandate will cost the propane industry $2,000 per build this year, the installation of remote shutdown devices is an important step toward further ensuring public and driver safety.
“The idea behind the remote device is that for those occasions when a driver is not in close proximity to his truck during a delivery, the flow of propane can still be shut down immediately if a leak develops in the line downstream of the pump,” says Beeson. “Tanker operators are also required to visually inspect the entire length of the delivery hose assembly on tankers in service at least once a month.”
The propane tanks on bulk delivery trucks must also be inspected on an annual basis to assess their integrity. During these inspections, the propane delivery meters are also calibrated. Beyond the annual inspection, the cargo tanks are required to go through hydrostatic testing every five years to ensure they function properly and are safe to operate. “As of July 1st, any cargo tank in service that goes in for hydrostatic testing must also be outfitted with the emergency remote shutdown device at that time,” Beeson reports.
The majority of the Ferrellgas delivery fleet is comprised of propane-powered Ford F700s and GMC TopKicks. “For the last four years, however, we've been purchasing diesel trucks, including Sterling L7501 and Kenworth T300 units.” In fact, the company has just signed a contract with Kenworth to purchase 450 new T300 medium-duty diesel trucks over the next three years.
“We spec our vehicles with heavy-duty suspensions and frames partly because of the heavy weight on the suspensions,” he says. “When empty, the propane tanks weigh almost 17,000 lb. We also spec heavy components because of the types of roads our drivers operate on while making deliveries in rural America,” says Beeson.
Founded in 1939, Ferrellgas now has approximately 5,000 employees working out of 600 locations in 45 states plus the District of Columbia. The company's transportation supply group has a fleet of 220 tractors, comprised mostly of Kenworth T800s, and 330 trailers, primarily 10,000 to 11,000-gallon liquid tankers built by Mississippi Tank.
From each of the 600 locations, Beeson reports, Ferrellgas operates its retail delivery fleet. The total number of bulk delivery trucks is currently 1,950, and they account for nearly 85% of the company's propane deliveries to customers in three main market segments: residential, agricultural and industrial commercial. Ferrellgas also delivers propane cylinders that are used on forklifts, as well as 20-lb. bottles of propane for gas grills. The fleet includes 520 straight trucks with flatbeds to haul the propane cylinders. The balance of the fleet is made up of pickup trucks and other assorted service vehicles.
PMs and repairs on the fleet are done by outside vendors. In addition to regularly scheduled 5,000-mile and annual preventive maintenance, Ferrellgas has a propane carburetion service performed on the 80% of the delivery fleet that still runs on propane. “This carburetion ‘tuneup’ is very important to the long-term health of the truck,” Beeson notes.
“In-house we also do a monthly inspection of each unit ourselves. These are much like a driver's daily pretrip inspection and allow us to check up on what our outside shops are doing. They also serve as an educational tool for new drivers, giving them a chance to learn from more experienced ones what types of problems to look for on the truck. Currently, we have 2,678 retail delivery drivers and 249 transport drivers working for Ferrellgas.”