LEWISTON — Gregg Herrick was on the phone for more than four hours Tuesday seeking heating oil for his Poland home. He never got through to a human being.
In desperation, he called U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office for help.
That prompted a call back from his heating oil company, but the woman at the other end of the line told him the soonest they could promise a delivery was Friday.
Herrick, 71, is alone at his home where he’s lived for 41 years. He has heart problems and has suffered a stroke. His wife is at a nursing home battling brain cancer, he said, his voice breaking from the stress.
“I just don’t like being treated this way. I need oil,” he said. “And these people are just treating us like dirt out here.”
He always pays promptly with cash; he’s not asking for charity, he said.
He tried several heating oil companies, but ended up on hold every place he tried.
“I think it’s wrong,” he said.
As the extreme cold snap continues, heating systems are working overtime along with heating oil companies and plumbing and heating contractors.
Paul Bissonnette, owner of Bissonnette Plumbing and Heating of Lewiston, said he can’t keep up with the roughly 30 calls a day he’s been getting for homes with no heat and water line freeze-ups.
Since last week, he and his three employees have been out straight, working up to 12-hour days through the weekend, helping homeowners restore their heat and running water.
In the 30 years he’s owned his company, he’s always been able to keep up with the demand, he said.
That changed last week.
“I’ve never seen it this bad,” he said. By 9 a.m. Tuesday, he had nearly a dozen calls. One frantic woman phoned him at 3 a.m. The call woke him up. He urged her to wait until 7 a.m. when his workers start their day.
Jeff Allen at Selco Plumbing and Heating Supplies in Auburn said a steady stream of contractors have been buying up materials to replace and repair frozen pipes and parts for furnaces working overtime.
“Everything’s failing more than normal,” he said, because of the abnormal temperatures. “Everything’s running twice as long, so you’re putting twice as much wear” on the heating systems.
Besides contractors looking for supplies, he’s been fielding calls from homeowners seeking contractors because they aren’t returning their calls, he said.
“They’re right out straight. I tell people, ‘Call and leave a message. That’s all you can do,'” he said.
As heating oil deliveries get pushed back, homes are plunged into the cold because they’re using more fuel and emptying their tanks, which causes more freeze-ups. That, in turn, drives a greater need for contractors.
“It’s getting crazy,” he said.
On Friday, Gov. Paul LePage signed an emergency proclamation aimed at ensuring that homeowners get heating oil deliveries without delay. That action grants a waiver from the Federal Department of Transportation to allow heating oil delivery personnel to stay on the road longer.
Temperatures are expected to ease up Wednesday from the subzero deep freeze that gripped northern New England last week and hasn’t relented.
A nor’easter is expected to arrive Thursday, likely dumping up to 10 inches of snow driven by up to 40 mph wind gusts. But the reprieve is expected to be short-lived. Arctic temperatures are forecast to return with a vengeance for the weekend, plummeting to negative numbers with highs barely climbing to zero degrees.
“Unfortunately, there’s just really no end in sight,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Eric Sinsabaugh said. “We’re stuck in a jet stream pattern that we’ve seen for many years now, off and on for the past four or five years and that tends to dump a lot of cold air into the Midwest and Northeast.”
He said we can expect “more of the same” through January.