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Governor Hassan asks Fuller Oil to pay more than $20,000 for hotline

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 24. 2014 12:35PM

Gov. Maggie Hassan wants Fred Fuller Oil & Propane Co. Inc. to "do the right thing" and reimburse the state nearly $21,000 for running an emergency telephone hotline to ensure the oil company's customers didn't run out of oil during a bitter cold stretch this month.

"Given that the state was forced to come to the assistance of those in an emergency situation due specifically to Fred Fuller Oil Co.'s difficulties, it is appropriate for the state to seek repayment from the company for overtime costs. The governor is hopeful that Fred Fuller Oil Co. will do the right thing for New Hampshire taxpayers," the governor's spokesman Marc Goldberg said in a statement.

In a letter to Fuller Oil Co. dated Thursday, state Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Perry Plummer said it cost the state $20,972.44 in regular and overtime hours to staff the hotline around-the-clock for nearly six days beginning Jan. 6.

The governor opened the emergency hotline to "protect the health and safety of Fred Fuller Oil customers who were running low on heating oil during some of the coldest days of the winter," Goldberg said.

The call center handled 3,832 incoming calls and 1,862 different cases involving Fuller Oil Co. customers whose oil tanks were either at or near empty, but couldn't reach the Hudson-based company to order more oil, Plummer said. The call center also made 2,745 follow up calls.

Fuller Oil Co. has blamed its problems on a failed telephone system and the media for inciting panic among its customers.

Attorney Simon C. Leeming, who represents Fuller Oil Co., said he could not comment on the matter Thursday night because he had not received any information. He was not immediately available Friday.

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.

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.

Click here to view the state's letter to Fred Fuller

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