HUDSON, N.H. -- No one ordered Fred Fuller to pay back $21,000 in estimated costs for operating a state hotline set up to take complaints from his customers who needed oil, but Fuller will reimburse the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for that amount anyway, he announced Saturday.

In a letter addressed to Perry Plummer, the state's director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Fuller, 66, owner and co-founder of the 45-year-old company, said he intends to reimburse the cost of running the hotline, while also creating a matching $21,000 account "to assist those customers of ours that were inconvenienced by this situation," he wrote.

Details on how the assistance fund may be applied to some customers are still being worked out, Fuller added.

"Although there is no requirement for us to reimburse the State of New Hampshire for the assistance provided, we think it is the responsible thing for us to do on behalf of the goodwill provided by you and the State of New Hampshire," Fuller wrote.

Amid the bitter cold snap that ushered in the new year, Fuller's two-year-old "high-tech" phone system inexplicably failed, and wasn't fully repaired for 10 days, despite the best efforts of a team of technicians, Fuller said.

Some media coverage of the company's phone troubles and delivery backlog fueled a panic among many of the company's 30,000 customers statewide, according to Fuller.

The New Hampshire Attorney General's Office took action by setting up an emergency hotline for Fuller's customers, and opening an investigation into the company's oil inventory and delivery schedule.

The hotline fielded more than 1,850 calls in five days, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office reported.

By the end of the third week of January, the phone system was repaired, and Fuller's staff had caught up on deliveries, with some drivers working 18-hour shifts. The state hotline was shut down.

"We have been in business since 1969 and this is the only time anything like this has ever happened," Fuller concluded his letter to Plummer. "We have taken several measures to ensure it will not happen again. We want to do all we can to provide our customers with the service they have been accustomed to for decades."

In a previous open letter that Fuller addressed to his customers, employees, the state Attorney General's Office and Department of Homeland Security, he thanked them alternately for their loyalty, hard work, help and support.

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