Derry resident Mark Grabowski was pleasantly surprised when he saw the Fred Fuller Oil truck come to his house yesterday.
“They told me that my oil would be coming on Thursday,” he said. “But they came (yesterday). I was just about ready to switch just in case.”
Grabowski was one of many Fred Fuller customers who got deliveries yesterday as the company attempts to get back on schedule. The Hudson-based oil company has received many complaints from its customers after oil deliveries have been delayed or nonexistent.
Gov. Maggie Hassan announced Tuesday night the state set up a hotline in an effort to speed up deliveries and help consumers in danger of running out of fuel. As of 2 p.m. yesterday, 650 people had called the hotline.
“The health and safety of individuals who are running dangerously low on heating oil due to delivery issues with Fred Fuller Oil Co. remain Governor Hassan’s primary concern,” spokesman Marc Goldberg said yesterday.
Goldberg said the hotline will remain in place until state officials are confident Fred Fuller is back on schedule.
“The hotline will remain operational until we are confident that response times are sufficient to ensure the health and safety of customers,” Goldberg said. “State officials remain in contact with Fred Fuller Oil as they work to address the situation.”
Goldberg said the company claims all problems will be resolved by the end of the week.
Multiple calls to company attorney Simon Leeming yesterday were not returned. Repeated calls to Fred Fuller’s corporate offices in Hudson were met with a busy signal. The company reported they have been having phone issues, which led to delays in service. But their provider, FairPoint Communications, said the issues were not on their end.
“Fuller’s phone problems were unrelated to FairPoint’s network and we did not have service issues,” Fairpoint spokesman Jeff Nevins said yesterday. “We were just made aware that one of Fuller Oil’s vendors had identified a problem internal to their phone system with its database and FairPoint’s technicians have left the premises.”
With many of Fred Fuller’s customers left in the cold, some have turned to other fuel companies for assistance. But those other companies report they are unable to handle the influx of customers.
“(Tuesday) afternoon, we had to hold off on taking new customers,” said Joe Trefethen, general manager of Palmer Oil in Atkinson. “We have a commitment to our existing customers.”
Trefethen said they have serviced about 100 extra customers in the last week, since Fred Fuller started having delays.
B&H Oil in Salem also was overwhelmed with new customers.
“We’ve been really busy and helping out people that we can in moderation,” office manager AnnMarie Glynn said. “We’re taking so many a day, but it’s just not feasible to handle everyone that calls. We’re happy to get new customers, but it makes for long days and it’s very taxing on us.”
Glynn said they are taking about 25 to 30 extra customers a day.
Bob Sculley, executive director of the Oil Heat Council of New Hampshire, said Fred Fuller is the only company they are aware of that’s been having problems.
“There is no shortage of oil,” he said. “Many of our companies are fielding requests and picking up new business on a temporary or permanent basis. I hope it gets resolved quickly, but this is not an industry-related problem. The oil industry is alive and well.”
Kathy Wagner, co-founder of Londonderry Warm Homes, said she has received only a few calls from worried residents.
“Everyone we’ve had calls from, we’ve been able to service,” Wagner said. “We understand it’s a cold spell and he’s having a hard time, but this week we’ve had no problems.”
Not everyone has been so lucky.
Nearly all the consumers who have called the hotline have had less than one-eighth of a tank of heating oil left, with many being left without heat altogether.
Derry resident Christine Earle posted on Facebook that she was waiting for Fred Fuller to arrive yesterday.
“I am suppose to get a delivery today,” she wrote. “I’m crossing my fingers and toes at this point.”
State employees are operating the hotline and making sure residents remain safe, even without heat.
“They are making sure people are not using unsafe heating sources; working with local authorities to check on elderly residents without heat; and talking with customers about alternative options where appropriate,” Goldberg said. “The operators are then working with Fred Fuller Oil to try to help the company triage the calls to make sure drivers and technicians are getting out to customers who have no heat or are on the verge of being in no-heat situations.”
Goldberg said the Attorney General’s Office is reviewing all circumstances involved in the Fred Fuller delays. He would not say if the company is having financial problems.
Customers are encouraged to call the hotline at 227-0002 if they are in imminent danger of running out of home heating oil.