Lessons Learned

National Park Service


While assisting another park, an employee, accidentally poured water into the fuel tank of a GOV.

Two employees were driving to a remote location in the park when the driver (employee 1) noticed that the vehicle was running low on fuel. The employees discussed turning around and driving approximately five miles back to a gas station but ultimately decided that they could make it to their destination and back safely. After reaching their destination the employees became concerned because there was not as much fuel left in the vehicle (GOV 1) as they expected. The Park had positioned another vehicle (GOV 2) at the remote location because it had a mobile radio that would provide reliable communications. GOV 2 was a small pick-up truck that had three “Gerry” cans in the back of it. The employees decided that they should use the fuel cans to ensure they would not run out of fuel on the return trip. There were three cans; one red and two tan. It was night and the employee was using a flashlight and had limited visibility. Employee 1 poured the contents of the red can into the fuel tank. Then employee 1 pulled out the first tan can and using a flashlight saw that it was labeled fuel, however the can was empty and set aside. The second tan can was then picked up and was full. Employee 1 then poured the contents of that can into the fuel tank of GOV 1. The employees then drove approximately three miles before the vehicle stopped running. Upon the subsequent investigation it was determined that the third can was a water jug not a fuel can.


  • The two employees were loaned GOV 2 but were not briefed on the equipment in the vehicle.
  • The GOV 2 came with various types of equipment including three “Gerry” cans. There was one red can (marked gasoline) and two desert tan cans (one marked fuel, one marked water).
  • After reaching their destination the employees decided not to risk running out of fuel on the way to the gas station and used one red and one tan “Gerry “ can to fuel up the vehicle.
  • When employee 1 had looked at the red can it had gasoline written on a sticker on its side. Employee 1 then emptied that can into GOV 1.
  • The employee then looked at the first of the tan cans and it had “FUEL” imprinted into it. Upon lifting the can employee 1 learned that it was empty.
  • Employee 1 then grabbed the second tan can assuming it was the same as the first. The second tan can was imprinted with “WATER” but employee one did not notice this fact.
  • When they next drove the vehicle they were able to drive approximately three miles when the vehicle suddenly stopped working.
  • Upon investigation it was learned that one of the tan cans had contained water. When initially looking at the cans the employee made the assumption that since the first two cans contained fuel that they all did.
  • The only obvious differences between the two tan cans was the imprinted words “FUEL” and “WATER”, different handles. None of these differences were apparent in the dark.
  • It was dark when the employee poured the cans into the GOV 1 and didn’t see the difference between the two cans.


  • The employee immediately called for assistance and moved the vehicle to a safe location off the road.
  • Employee reported the disabled vehicle to the supervisor as soon as possible.


Do not let the fuel tank of the vehicle you are driving get below half a tank.

Top off vehicle fuel tanks at the end of each work shift.

When you notice the vehicle fuel tank is low stop and get fuel before continuing on to your destination, even if it means back tracking or going out of your way.

Do not store fuel and water in containers that look alike. Fuel and water cans should be distinctly different colors.

The standardized color code for Gerry cans is:

Red –Gasoline

Yellow- diesel

Blue – potable water