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January 23. 2014 8:55PM

State reviewing hotline costs to help Fred Fuller Oil customers


Rank Zito of Bedford snapped this photo on Jan. 11 when a Fred Fuller Oil truck made a delivery to his house. (Courtesy)

On Friday, the state will learn what it cost to operate an emergency hotline to ensure Fred Fuller Oil & Propane Co. customers didn't run out of oil during a bitter cold snap earlier this month, but it is not known if the governor will ask the company to reimburse the money.

Gov. Maggie Hassan requested the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to tally the cost to open and staff its emergency operations center for nearly six days beginning Jan. 6, the agency's director, Perry Plummer, said.

More than 1,850 calls came into the hotline from Fred Fuller customers whose oil tanks were near or at empty, but couldn't contact Fuller Oil directly because the company's telephone system had failed, state officials have said.

In addition, the state Attorney General's Office is reviewing Fuller Oil documents detailing how many gallons of oil the company agreed to provide customers under prepaid heating contracts it entered into during this and next year's heating season, Senior Assistant Attorney General James T. Boffetti said. The state will determine if Fuller Oil got futures contracts with its supplier in which it commits to buy at least 75 percent of the oil it contracted to provide customers.

Boffetti, who heads the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Bureau, said Fuller Oil provided the documents to his office late Wednesday and he is reviewing them. He said he asked for additional information and that Fuller "has been responsive."

Boffetti said the documents will show whether Fuller Oil complied with state law governing prepaid home heating contracts by entering into futures contracts with suppliers. Violations are considered unfair or deceptive business practices.

Fuller Oil has blamed problems getting oil delivered to its customer on a faulty telephone system and media reports that the company said incited panic among customers.

While Boffetti acknowledged the company had legitimate telephone system problems, he noted that doesn't adequately address what happened.

"They should have quickly come up with an alternative way for customers to reach them," Boffetti said. For instance, Fuller Oil could have bought a number of cell phones to replace the failed telephone system. Instead, the state had to step in and set up the emergency hotline .

Fuller Oil's attorney Simon C. Leeming said he couldn't comment when asked if Fuller would offer to reimburse the state for the expense of the hotline.

"I haven't seen anything so I'm not really in a position" to answer the question, Leeming said.

kmarchocki@unionleader.com



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