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March 04. 2014 8:41PM

Fred Fuller Oil battling through cold to deliver, attorney says

Fred Fuller Oil & Propane Co. delivered a “huge amount of oil to his customers” in the last few days in an all-out push to meet demand during a lingering weather of “very extreme” weather, the company’s attorney said Tuesday.

“It’s really a crisis of the weather. He (Fuller) is the biggest in the state and so with the stress of the weather they are flat out. People who would normally be replenishing at a slower rate are having to replenish at a faster rate...Everybody is working as much as they possibly can to get the oil out,” Simon C. Leeming of Preti Flaherty law firm in Concord said.

Leeming stressed Fuller Oil has ample reserves and its only immediate limitation is “keeping up with demand,” which he predicted should ease in the next few days when “the weather settles down.”

Many customers who had been nursing near empty tanks during the last few days were pleased to find Fuller Oil truck drivers at their door near midnight Monday and again beginning early Tuesday morning.

But some others who had been pleading for deliveries while watching their oil gauges drop toward empty ran out.

After being promised a delivery for the last week, Frank Burt of Chester returned home after taking his wife to the hospital for a cancer treatment Monday to find their oil ran out.

“The pipes were cold,” said Burt, 66, who has been a Fuller Oil customer for 37 years and so far paid $2,700 on his automatic delivery budget plan.

Meanwhile, the head of the state Consumer Protection Bureau said Fuller’s attorneys confirmed the oil company delivered “a fair amount of oil” since Monday.

“We are getting reports that their trucks are out and are delivering,” Senior Assistant Attorney General James T. Boffetti said.

Boffetti cautioned customers not to panic. He said such action would only make it harder for Fuller Oil to sort through orders that truly need immediate attention and customers who have enough oil to last a few days or a week but may be overreacting to media reports.

“But the bottom line is he (Fuller) has to find a way to stop this cycle. He needs to be able to assure his customers he can deliver oil when they need it and he needs to build back the confidence of his customers,” Boffetti said.

Complicating matters Tuesday was another disruption to Fuller Oil’s telecommunications system. Several calls placed to Fuller’s main Hudson office and 800 number did not go through. Occasionally, a recorded line said the number was out of service. It was unclear what the problem was.

He said employees have back-up cell phones to communicate.

Fuller is one of the largest home heating fuel suppliers in the state with an estimated customer base of 30,000.

Fuller general manger Oren Havey said Monday the company puts a priority on servicing its pre-buy and budget customers who already paid for their oil as well as automatic delivery customers, as opposed to the “will call customers” who call up for deliveries when the temperatures plunge or their tanks run low.

“Pre-buy and budget and my automatics — they are the priority. Those are the people who have been here through thick and thin,” Havey said.

“There is no issue with supply. It is just the time frame and overwhelming customer demand,” Havey said. “We are not going anywhere. ..We are going to fulfill our obligations.”

But Burt of Chester challenged the claim when he ran out of oil Monday despite paying $2,700 towards his budget plan this year. He said he discovered several “cash on delivery” customers were getting their tanks filled up while he only got a partial fill up to tide him over another week.

“I’m guessing they’re looking for cash,” Burt said.

“They are delivering full tanks to people who have cash and those who have been paying all along are getting 50 to 75 gallons,” he added.

Burt is just one of several long-time Fuller customers considering switching dealers.

“When our pre-buy runs out, we are not going back to him. I don’t trust them anymore,” JoAnne Lazinsky of Derry said. With an approximate $1,000 balance on their Fuller 2013-2014 pre-buy contract, Lazinsky on Monday said she was down to about an eighth of a tank despite repeated calls to Fuller for a delivery.

“We were afraid we would run out,” Lazinsky said. They called Rockingham Oil, which delivered a 100 gallons this morning, which the couple had to put on a credit card.

kmarchocki@unionleader.com



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