By LISA MONTI
The record-breaking 2005 hurricane season, which included Katrina, revealed gaps in how fuel was distributed to first responders and others on the front lines.
Kirk Dickerson, who owns and operates Dickerson Petroleum and Dickerson Transportation in Kosciusko, saw an opportunity to fill those gaps and in 2006 founded Speciality Fuel Services. Soon afterward he was joined by Walton Gresham and Rod Veazey.
Gresham owns Gresham Petroleum, which has operated in Sunflower County since 1920. Veazey runs the day-to-day operations of Gresham Petroleum.
“SFS is not a day-in, day-out supply business. We are strictly an emergency provider,” said Trey Howard, who was brought on as managing partner in 2012. “Our mission is to bring a sense of order by delivering specialized fueling services when, where and how they are needed.”
Although SFS is a separate entity, it utilizes the fuel, workforce and equipment of Gresham’s and Dickerson’s petroleum companies. Gresham Petroleum’s fuel terminal on the Mississippi River gives SFS about 15 million gallons capacity.
“We leverage the assets and people of those two companies,” said Howard, whose background is in wireless carrier network operations.
SFS has a contract with the state of Mississippi for emergency fuel supply.
Other customers include hospitals, wireless companies, utilities, banks, data centers and grocery and pharmacy chains that contract for fuel, the labor and equipment such as tanks, pumps and generators needed to deliver the fuel. Most customers are Fortune 100 or 500 companies, Howard said.
In 2012, the company mobilized drivers and trucks after Hurricane Sandy and fueled 1,000 utility company vehicles overnight for several days in New York.
SFS revenue is derived from major disasters, which are unpredictable and can be scarce. “2012 was a good year financially,” Howard said. “Other years we’re planning for the next big event.”
SFS helps customers develop or refine a business continuity plan which ensures they have a fuel source that is out of harm’s way and isn’t subject to price fluctuations and that equipment will be dedicated to serve them. “We can haul fuel in large transport trucks, air boats, 4-wheelers and jon boats,” Howard said.
SFS also provides onsite project management along with the transportation services.
Having a ready source of fuel is especially vital for first responders trying to restore service. “There are no solar powered police cars or ambulances,” Howard said. “If the fuel guys don’t show up, everything will stop in 24 hours.”
SFS has deployed crews to Canada and the Midwest but usually the calls come from customers east of the Mississippi River. “Most emergencies are ice storms, hurricanes and major tornados,” Howard said. Deployments can last from days to a few months, because when fuel becomes available again on a regular basis in disaster areas, SFS employees return home.
Howard said it takes a special type of driver to handle emergency situations when things are changing minute by minute. “They have to be very flexible and at all times safe because they’re dealing with a product that is dangerous. It’s not like hauling chocolate milk around. There are safety and environmental issues.”
To stay prepared themselves, Howard said SFS goes through various disaster scenarios such as a fictional hurricane hitting Miami and then making landfall in New Orleans.
“We do a lot of what-ifs,” he said. “We have to be able to perform and get customers what they need, which is fuel, particularly first responders.
We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin.”
But even with input from weather services and keeping an eye on current events, it’s impossible for SFS to predict when emergencies occur. Howard recalled getting a call from a Virginia utility company after unexpected straight line winds took out power poles and left 3 million people without electricity.
“We’re like the fire department,” he said. “They say pull the trigger and off we go”