This is All Things Considered on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. In this extremely cold weather, home heating systems are working hard to keep people and pipes from freezing. New Hampshire's Emergency Management Director Perry Plummer has been urging residents to be patient but persistent with their service providers, as extremely cold weather drives demand for fuel deliveries. Mr. Plummer is on the line with me now.
Thank you very much for speaking with me.
So your department has been urging people to be persistent with fuel companies. How strained are those fuel companies right now?
The good news is it's not a supply issue. There is fuel out there and people can get fuel. The problem is it's a distribution problem. They're just overwhelmed you know in this day and age of right-size manufacturer and right-size deliveries, those types of things. There's not a lot of capacity so when the weather gets this cold some companies have to deliver twice as much fuel as they normally would in the same period of time and don't have the capacity to do that. So with that being said, they're doing a phenomenal job.
They're working around the clock to try to get people fuel but certainly it's putting a strain on the system. So right now all the fuel deals are just really struggling trying to get the deliveries for their contract customers for their prepaid customers and then for their regular customers. And then at-will customers, the people that call whichever dealer, are really at the end of the line. And those you'll think that's who's really struggling for the most part - are the people that don't have a regular fuel deal. For the most part, and when we're talking about fuel we're talking about heating oil, propane, even wood deliveries, ... which is really the main thing as fuel oil. But we have had some propane issues. Unfortunately propane offers a greater challenge because the fuel companies can't deliver it to someone else's tanks. So they have to get it from their their own delivery service, whereas fuel oil - they can shop around and if they can find someone that can deliver quicker, then they certainly can exercise that option.
And then we have a number of people that are actually buying diesel and five gallon cans and putting it in their tank for fuel. And that's probably that they use diesel fuel or they use home heating oil, then they certainly can do that.
Is the situation better or worse depending on where you live in New Hampshire? Or is the whole state seeing the same really?
I mean, unfortunately this cold weather has been statewide and it's unprecedented so with the great news - the economy in the state is good. The bad news is it's really hard to get help. And so you know that there's a driver shortage and then there's just an increased demand.
Fuel delivery restrictions have been eased. What restrictions are those?
So there's a federal and state law that requires drivers to only drive so many hours and be on the road so many hours. And those have been waved both at the state level and the region. The federal, regional level to try to give the drivers more time on the road to try to get those deliveries made. So those are waived for the next couple of weeks to try to get the drivers to get more time. With that being said, they still have to sleep, they still operate safely so they're not out there at a point of exhaustion, but they're still out there working around the clock seven days a week. My hat's off to them you know. I know that there's a lot of frustrated people out there but you know the individual drivers and the companies are really trying to meet the needs of all the customers.
We're expecting a lot of snow tomorrow. How do you think heavy snowfall will impact people who are waiting for a fuel delivery?
Yeah, you know the good news is that temperatures are going to increase a little bit. The bad news is it's bringing in snow. So certainly it's like any business when you're working in the snow where you can't see - the traveling is difficult. You know pulling a hose out to a backyard is more difficult. It's going to take longer. So it's going to slow down the deliveries a little bit.
What happens if someone's in a situation where they're going to run out and there's no chance that they're going to get a delivery before the end of this cold snap. What should those people do?
The best thing they could do is call 2-1-1. We'll take information from them and then they'll turn it over to us and we'll call them back and start working through any options that we have to try to get them fuel to try to get them on their tag or to try to mitigate the situation the best we can or get them shelter. The main thing is to keep people safe. We've been working. We've had conference calls with municipalities with fire, police, EMS, emergency management directors - all trying to keep our residents safe. And if someone's heating from a heating source that may not be safe, we're trying to find people to go out and check with them just to make sure that we can keep people safe. And I can't reiterate enough to check on your neighbor, especially if they are elderly. This is unprecedented cold and and a little bit of a crisis here so we really would like people to check on and try to all work together to try to get through this.
Perry Plummer, thank you very much for speaking with me.