MOUNT VERNON — Just because there is a propane gas tank on one’s property, it does not mean that one owns that tank. A dispute between Wilhelm’s Bottled Gas Service and Wise Choice Propane has drawn attention to the fact that potentially dangerous confusion can result if the status of a tank is in dispute.
Wilhelm’s Bottled Gas asked Mount Vernon attorney Scott A. Pullins to file suit Tuesday regarding a propane tank at a property on New Delaware Road. The tank in question is owned by Wilhelm’s Bottled Gas, but had allegedly been refilled by Wise Choice Propane. Propane suppliers are forbidden by law from knowingly filling a competitor’s tank.
“Most tanks are owned by the gas companies,” said Brad Wilhelm, co-owner of Wilhelm’s Bottled Gas.
Wilhelm said each company’s tanks have a distinctive look, and have tags on them identifying the owner. He said the tank on New Delaware Road had an identifying tag on it. Wilhelm alleged that his competitor was merely claiming not to know that Wilhelm owned the tank in order to get extra sales.
Robert Wise, the owner of Wise Choice Propane, said his employees never would have filled the tank if they thought it belonged to Wilhelm’s Bottled Gas.
“The customer thought he owned it,” Wise said, adding that he has signed paperwork on file with the previous property owner’s signature.
Wise said his records show his company has been supplying propane to the residence since November 2007, starting first with the previous owner, and continuing with the current resident, who took over the property in March 2009.
Wilhelm said few people actually own the propane tanks on their properties, because the tanks are expensive and require insurance coverage as well as an additional property tax. Wilhelm said when his company owns the tank, he is the one paying those fees. If someone else fills the tank and problems resulted in a leak, fire or explosion, the tank owner would still be held liable, regardless of who filled it.
Wilhelm said that any time he sells a tank, he provides the tank’s original data sheet, including custom manufacturing information and serial number, to the buyer.
“If you don’t have that data sheet with the serial number, you probably don’t own that tank,” Wilhelm said, likening the data sheet to an automobile title.
Wise said it was not standard practice for his company to ask a customer for a data sheet, and that customers were only required to fill out a form stating ownership of the tank.
Tuesday morning, Wilhelm’s Bottled Gas removed the tank from the New Delaware Road property. Wise criticized that decision, saying that at the time the tank was removed, the only people at home were a 7-month-old baby, a 3-year-old child and their baby-sitter. Wise said his company took a new tank to the house Tuesday afternoon and filled it.
Mount Vernon Fire Chief Shawn Christy said that although Pullins requested him to forward the case for prosecution as a fire code violation, Christy said he would not.
“It’s impossible for me to verify anything that happened prior to the event,” Christy said.
He added that it was a rather obscure violation and that he was going to treat it as he would any other code violation, something to be corrected but not prosecuted on first offense. Christy said he was satisfied Wise’s employees did not knowingly fill a competitor’s tank.
“My main concern is with education and prevention of potential fire code problems,” Christy said, “not miscommunication or professional issues between a couple of businesses.”