A Fun Story with a Purpose

Over the years many people in the industry have shared funny stories with me that often made an impact on the way I have thought about business.  I would like to share one of those stories with you.  I know I will be dating myself as this story goes back to when drivers and technicians used two-way radios and when anyone over the age of 12 knew what a booby prize was.  Ask someone under 35 today what a booby prize is and see what response you get.  If you don’t know, ask an older person.

Before texting, or the use of electronic dispatching, or before Nextel touch and talk radios, or even before cell phones, there were two-way radios.  The proper language on two-way radios was to use the “10 code.”  Some common examples are 10-4 = Message received, 10-6 = Busy, please stand by, and what’s your 20, which is 10-20 = My location is _____.  Just watch a Smokey and the Bandit movie for a refresher course.

Getting back to the story—there was a home heating oil customer who called their fuel company to let them know they had no heat.  They said they thought they were out of fuel.  The CSR informed them that they were on automatic delivery and they had received a delivery in September and since it was the middle of October it was unlikely they were out of oil.  The customer had a service agreement in place so the company dispatched a service technician.  When the technician arrived, they found the above ground 275-gallon tank was empty.  He put ten gallons of fuel in the tank, primed and started the burner and called for a driver to fill the tank.

Two weeks later, the customer called in with no heat.  Another service technician was sent out and found that the tank was empty.  Service dispatch was concerned that there may have been an oil spill as the oil line from the tank to the burner was underground.  The service technician tested the line and did not find a leak but he ran a temporary line just to be sure and to make certain the customer would have heat.  The homeowner was informed and they were very grateful for the thoroughness and diligence of their supplier.  Their heat was back on and it was a good thing as it was now November and it was getting cold.

Two weeks later the customer called and said they had no heat.  They said they checked the new gauge that was installed on the tank and it showed that the tank was empty.

This raised alarms for the fuel company and all sorts of theories were discussed such as someone stealing the fuel.  The action that they took was to send a service supervisor.  When he pulled up in the street in front of the house, he said I am 10-20 at the customer’s location and they are out of oil, please send a truck.  The dispatcher asked if he had looked at the tank and the burner and if he had diagnosed the problem.  He said that he had not gotten out of his van but he was fairly certain they were out of oil.  The dispatcher asked him how he knew they were empty and he said it was simple, there is no roof on the house.

I’m sure there are many lessons to be learned and hopefully you can use this story to help train your employees as to what questions to ask a customer and how to be observant at a customer’s home.  If you have any questions just 10-25 me but don’t 10-26 me.  I wish you all a 10-99. (You can Google it at


Steve Abbate

Managing Director, Cetane Associates

February 2023


First published in Fuel Oil News, February 2023 issue

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We were very pleased to have such a knowledgeable and experienced company in our corner with the team at Cetane. It was obvious that they knew the best process and how to get the ball over the goal line. Their advice throughout the process was greatly appreciated and we thoroughly enjoyed working with them.

— Steve Lombardi, Brodeur’s Oil, Moosup, CT