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Emergency oil hotline receives hundreds of calls

More than 650 Fred Fuller Oil and Propane Co. customers have called the emergency hotline set up by Gov. Maggie Hassan on Tuesday that aims to help people at risk of running out of oil due to the company’s delivery problems.

“The health and safety of individuals who are running dangerously low on heating oil due to delivery issues with Fred Fuller Oil Co. remain Gov. Hassan’s primary concern,” spokesman Marc Goldberg said in a statement. “We remain very concerned about the situation and the hotline will remain operational until we are confident that response times are sufficient to ensure the heath and safety of customers.”

The governor set up the hotline at 6 p.m. Tuesday, and those 650 calls were received as of mid-afternoon yesterday. The hotline number is 227-0002, and it’s answered around the clock.

Fuller officials said Tuesday the delivery backlogs were due to increased demand from the cold temperatures and a malfunction with the company’s phones, which prevented customers from requesting deliveries. Consumers who pre-ordered oil are now waiting for a product they’ve already paid for.

When customers call the hotline, they speak with a state employee who first makes sure the callers aren’t heating their homes in unsafe ways to make up for lack of oil, Goldberg said. Then, they suggest alternative options, such as other oil companies the customers can call. The operators also gather customer information and help triage the calls to Fuller, letting them know which customers are out or nearly out of oil.

Most of the callers have less than a quarter tank of heating oil left, Goldberg said. The private company has not disclosed how many customers it serves, and Goldberg said the attorney general’s office is “actively reviewing the circumstances involved” with the shortage.

Simon Leeming, Fuller’s attorney, did not respond to requests for comment yesterday, but Goldberg’s statements said the company said it will resolve the issue by week’s end.

Fuller customers who spoke with the Monitor expressed both satisfaction and frustration with the hotline and the company.

Alan Shoemaker of Windham has been pre-buying from Fuller for more than 20 years and has never had an issue. He read about the shortages in the news and called the hotline because he has only a quarter tank left and is planning to leave town. After trying for about 20 minutes, he reached an operator who was very helpful, he said.

The operator suggested other companies in the area the Shoemakers could buy oil from and put them on a priority list for Fuller. The couple found another company to fill their tank to ensure the house is heated while they are out of town.

“I’m very satisfied with the hotline,” he said. “(The operator) was very complete, she didn’t try to rush us, she took down all the information and explained the situation.”

But Mike Torigian of Mont Vernon called the hotline a “total waste of time.” He said he was switched between multiple lines and eventually sent to a voicemail box that was full. He has a quarter tank of oil left and tried to call Fuller several days ago but got a busy signal. He’s purchased oil from Fuller for 10 years and said this is the first issue he’s had with the company. He has not tried to call the hotline again.

Tom Prescott, president of Johnny Prescott & Son Oil Co., said yesterday afternoon he had received about 30 calls from Fuller customers looking for oil. That was slightly down from Tuesday, but in total Prescott has delivered oil to roughly 200 Fuller customers during the past week, he said.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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