LPG Spotlight: Foster Fuels

June 20, 2019 By    

This is the extended version of the “LPG Spotlight: Foster Fuels” that appeared in the June 2019 edition of LP Gas.

A Virginia-based fuel provider extends its reach into natural disaster zones during relief efforts.

Foster Fuels’ Mission Critical division works to provide fuel during relief efforts after a natural disaster. Photo courtesy of Foster Fuels.

When a natural disaster passes, it leaves behind devastation and a set of life-altering challenges to the people in the affected area.

After the storm, people are called on to help those in need. Foster Fuels is one of the organizations that answers the call.

Foster Fuels, a third-generation and family-owned-and-operated energy provider based in Brookneal, Virginia, provides residential, commercial, agricultural and transportation fuel, including propane, to its customers nationwide. Included in those offerings is Mission Critical – the company’s emergency fuel services division.

“We called it ‘emergency services’ early on,” says Will Rohrig, senior vice president of the Mission Critical division. “It got us working with telecom companies, delivering diesel and propane to backup generators at remote cell tower locations.”

The work started in September 2003 when Hurricane Isabel hit the company’s home state of Virginia. Primarily, the company supplied fuel to keep cell towers operational, helping to keep communication open. In 2005, when the company traveled to Mississippi for relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, Mission Critical’s role expanded.

Foster Fuels had fuel, equipment and personnel in affected areas of Mississippi for 18 months. During this time, the company connected with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Today, the company is the emergency fuel provider for FEMA nationwide. The contract came from a specialized energy need the company could fulfill, and it was recently extended for another five years.

“Fuel is its own animal,” Rohrig says. “It takes specialized equipment and knowledge.”

Providing fuel to private industries and hospitals and filling propane tanks for soup kitchens, standby generators and forklifts are the primary duties the company takes on when responding to emergency situations.

Foster Fuels has deployed to several natural disaster sites while working with FEMA. 2005 was one of the busiest years for Foster Fuels with Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Wilma. The company also provided services during the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2011 snowstorm in the Northeast, Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017, and most recently Hurricanes Florence and Michael in 2018.

Large-scale disasters are only a sample of how far and wide Foster Fuels travels. On average, the company responds to more localized events monthly.

FEMA is a high-priority customer for Foster Fuels, helping the company develop wide-scale logistics and methods to approaching unique challenges – something Rohrig says would never have happened if this contract didn’t provide the proving grounds.

“Every event is a little bit different and brings unique challenges,” Rohrig says. “We have seen over the years you can predict up to about 80 percent of the challenges you’ll face. For the other 20 percent, you have to have a team with a depth of knowledge and resources to respond. You build a depth of experience and resources from every storm, and you find good people focused on the task.”

Back at home, these services provide a solid reputation to Foster Fuels’ everyday customers.

“It resonates with people in the area that the same company that fills the tank in their backyard is going out to help fuel a local kitchen in a disaster zone,” says Chelsea Harrison, the vice president of marketing at Foster Fuels. “I hear all the time that people think that is awesome and they want to learn more.”

Harrison says the company will see social media posts of its trucks traveling to disaster zones.

“It is really cool,” she says. “It is a huge part of the community. Even for our employees, it gives them a sense of pride knowing they are going to help people in need during their worst times.”

Foster Fuels

Year founded // 1921
Headquarters // Campbell County, Virginia
Founder // Lou Hilton “LH” Foster Sr.
Owner // Watt R. Foster Jr.
Employees // 184
Website // fosterfuelsmissioncritical.com

Notable wide-scale emergency responses have been for:

Hurricane Michael, 2018

Hurricane Florence, 2018

Hurricane Harvey, 2017 (Texas)

Hurricane Maria, 2017 (Puerto Rico)

Hurricane Irma, 2017 (Florida)

Hurricane Matthew, 2016 (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey)

Hurricane Joaquin, 2015 (Virginia, North Carolina)

Winter Storms Ulysses, Vulcan, 2014 (North Carolina, West Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey)

Winter Storm Nemo, 2013 (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York)

Superstorm Sandy, 2012 (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts)

Hurricane Isaac, 2012 (Louisiana)

Mid-Atlantic derecho, 2012 (Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina)

Northeast snowstorm, 2011 (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire)

Hurricane Irene, 2011 (North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut)

Alabama tornadoes, 2011 (Alabama, Tennessee)

Haiti Earthquake, 2010 (Port Au Prince, Haiti)

Kentucky ice storms, 2009 (Kentucky)

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, 2008 (Louisiana, Texas)

Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, 2005 (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, New Jersey)

Hurricane Ivan, 2004 (Florida)

Hurricane Isabel, 2003 (Virginia)

*Video courtesy of Foster Fuels

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About the Author:

Joe McCarthy was an associate editor at LP Gas Magazine.

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