Verizon Continues Weird, Pointless Flame War With Networkworld Blogger

Here are the facts of the case as we know them:

  • On August 8th, 2007, a Verizon tech went to the home of one Patrick O’Malley to install Verizon FIOS. While installing the wiring, the tech drilled directly into the electrical main, causing a small electrical fire and a localized blackout of the O’Malley’s neighborhood.
  • Eyewitnesses, including O’Malley’s wife, saw smoke billowing out of the wall. The fire department was called. They put out the fire, then ripped apart the walls to make sure it had not spread. It had not.
  • The Needham Times reported on the fire, quoting the O’Malley’s neighbor as saying, “I noticed my TV was flickering off and on, something was wrong,” said Thelma Papetti, who lives next door to the fire at 60 Pine Grove St. “Then the fire trucks came.”
  • Networkworld blogger Paul McNamara picked up the story and called the Needham Deputy Fire Chief, Al DeIulio, who told him that the Verizon technician “was drilling on the outside of the house when he hit an electrical main” and started the fire. “He’s lucky he’s not dead,” says DeIulio.
  • At this time, The Consumerist notes, “The damage to the house was minor.” The homeowners are quoted in the Neeham Times as saying, “There was not that much damage. We’ll be alright.”
  • Verizon responds to Networkworld’s post and the Needham Time’s story with a “correction” that said, (among other things):
    “One of our new techs was installing a triple play at a Needham home (they’re selling like hotcakes, btw). When drilling a hole for the Optical Network Terminal, he accidentally hit an electrical wire, knocking out power to the house. Our bad, but no smoke, and no fire. Out of an overabundance of caution (always a good thing) the local fire department was called.”

  • Steven Ryan, the original reporter on the story, called Al DeIulio to see if he had been mistaken. Al responded: “If there’s flames, there’s fire.” Both The Consumerist and Paul @ Networkworld made note of this contradiction. Paul also provided an eyewitness account from O’Malley’s wife: “I was one of 50 people there watching gray smoke billowing from the electric meter panel.”

You might think that would be enough for Verizon. Their tech made a mistake, caused a small electrical fire and they’ve apologized and promised to pay for the damages. No one would ask any more of them, honestly. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s how you handle them that is what matters most.

Verizon is not handling this well. Rather than act with the sort of class one would expect from such a large corporation (see: Above & Beyond), Verizon has decided to enter a juvenile “flame war” (no pun intended) with a blogger about his use of the word “fire.”

Yes, for some inexplicable reason, Verizon has posted a personal attack on Paul McNamara on their own blog. Who knew Verizon had a blog?

Here’s Eric W. Rabe, director of corporate media relations, posting on Verizon’s policy blog:

Well, one certainly hates to fan the flames of Paul McNamara’s efforts to take down Verizon. So let me repeat that we regret that there was any problem at a home in Needham, MA, during recent work there by a Verizon technician. We worked cooperatively with officials at the scene to restore electrical service. The next day the customer allowed us to finish the installation of her new FiOS TV, Internet, and phone service. We have apologized to the customer and taken financial responsibility for repairs. When accidents such as this do happen we step up and do the right thing and we did in this case.

But let’s keep this in perspective. FiOS is a hot product, but not that hot. No house was “set ablaze” as McNamara wrote in his post on this incident. We won’t parse words with the fire chief, but if there was either smoke or fire, it did not cause extensive damage. Want to see? The fire department opened the wall to be sure nothing was burning inside a crawl space. Here are two see four new photos at bottom of the area where, as we have said, our technician’s drill hit an electric wire. There is far more damage from opening the wall than from any smoke or flames.

Importantly, the incident has little to do with the Verizon’s fiber or FiOS technology. This was the sort of accident that could happen during a lot of household projects like building a deck or installing a dryer vent hose.

McNamara seems to believe the old adage “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” We didn’t think there was either smoke or fire, but, if there was, the damage was minimal and we’re taking care of repairs. The most smoke here comes from Paul McNamara’s efforts to turn this ember of a story into a forest fire.

Verizon posted some pictures of the O’Malley home in which one can see that most of the damage from the fire was caused by the fire department ripping apart the walls to check for (more) fire. (Most of the photographs are of the customer’s pretty new FIOS wiring, so we haven’t posted them.) If anything, the photographs show that the damage to the O’Malley home is somewhat more significant than the “minor damage” we’d imagined. The fire department really did a number on those walls.

In any case, we find it very, very strange that Verizon would choose to go down this road. It’s just not wise. Rather than “putting out the fire,” their continued attempts to spin and intimidate newspaper reporters and bloggers with pointless semantic arguments makes them come off as strange, mean bullies.

Verizon, according to the US. Fire Administration, “home electrical problems account for 67,800 fires, 485 deaths, and $868 million in property losses” every single year. It is not out of an “overabundance of caution” that one would call the fire department after a technician drilled into the electrical main, causing smoke to billow from the walls. The Needham fire department did not rip apart the walls because they thought they might find delicious candy. We consider the matter closed.

Now Consumerist has “Verizon Face.” No one is safe.

walls1.jpg
walls2.jpg

Update:FiOS is Hot, but not that Hot [Verizon Policy Blog]

(Photo:Verizon)

PREVIOUSLY: Verizon Sets Fire To Your Home
Verizon: There Was No Fire. Fire Department: Yes, There Was A Fire.

Comments

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  1. clamman says:

    I’ve sat in on enough meeting with suits to figure out what is happening here—

    Some dope at Verizon thinks that the customer base is so stupid, that they might get the impression that FIOS service start fires… Have you seen the commercials– “It’s 20db HOT!” or something like that….. and light comes shining out of the side of the house– AND on top of that– the word FIOS SOUNDS like FIRE!!! It’s a marketing nightmare!!!

    So this guy’s boss is making him go out of his way to prove it ain’t FIOS causing fires…. It’s all just very ham-handed and weird…

  2. chimmike says:

    I see no smoke damage nor water damage…….if it was on fire, it was for a few seconds at best………(I’m an insurance adjuster)

    I don’t doubt that it was probably smoking, it was probably smoldering some insulating plastic on a wire or something…….but that shows no fire damage to me, just some torn out wall.

  3. chimmike says:

    I don’t see any fire damage there….just some torn wall. No smoke or water damage visible. I don’t doubt there was smoke, but it was probably from smoldering plastic wire insulation or something. (I’m an insurance adjuster, I know what fire damage looks like)

  4. chimmike says:

    ……oops.

  5. But let’s keep this in perspective. FiOS is a hot product, but not that hot.

    Oh my GAWD.

    They can’t expect to be taken seriously with lines like that! Can’t they stop hawking their products for five seconds?

    We didn’t think there was either smoke or fire, but, if there was…

    Why does there even have to be a back and forth over whether there was a fire?

  6. boandmichele says:

    i cant possibly side with verizon, because that ‘selling like hotcakes’ line pisses me off EVERYTIME i read it. argh.

  7. ptkdude says:

    @chimmike: Whether it was on fire for a few seconds or it burned to the ground, Verizon shouldn’t be saying there was not a fire when there was.

  8. Toof_75_75 says:

    @chimmike:

    There also looks to be a fair amount of wood that they removed, which likely could have been slightly charred or something of the sort…regardless though, the fire department felt it necessary to rip the wall open, Verizon has admitted their mistake, it seems cut and dry…Verizon, pick up the tab and shut up!

  9. hi says:

    Yeah I think the point is… look at what happened to the house regardless. Their new ad’s should say this is how we install Fios. First we drill through some electrical wiring (and speaking of drills fios is selling at an alarming rate!). Next we call the fire dept who proceeds to destroy your house (speaking of destroy, fios is destroying our competition). Then we take photos and blog about there’s no fire (except the red hot sales of fios is on fire!). Did I mention fios is selling like hotcakes? Anyways they are.

  10. topgun says:

    You know as much as we all would like to throw stones at Verizon, I have to side with them on this one. They owned up to having made a mistake and are taking full responsibilities for repairs. I think if I were in the media relation guys cubical, I too would be defending my employer on this.

  11. Nilt says:

    Mmmm. Delicious Candy. Hehe.

    I actually find myself agreeing with the whole “this could happen in many other installations such as installing a dryer vent” with one caveat. A professional installer should use an AC detector before drilling anywhere and especially when drilling near the freaking electrical main! A homeowner may be forgiven for drilling for a dryer vent without doing so, perhaps, but not anyone acting in a professional capacity.

    This story isn’t about Verizon’s denial of smoke or flames to me. I can deal with miscommunication between departments (heck, the manager of this guy probably lied to his bosses boss in order to cover his ass). This story is about the incompetency of the Verizon technician, in my opinion.

  12. AtomikB says:

    @mbills2: OMG, you are AWESOME!!!

  13. nursetim says:

    When I read “Importantly, the incident has little to do with the Verizon’s fiber or FiOS technology. This was the sort of accident that could happen during a lot of household projects like building a deck or installing a dryer vent hose.”, I decided that this guy watched “Home Improvement” and didn’t realize that it was make believe. When I built a new deck on my house, I managed to do it without drilling into anything electrical. Instead of making inane comments about the situation and putting in maketing slogans, just simply put up a statement about what happened and what you are doing to fix it. whenever this story pops up, refer people back to your statement, and go on. This is only opening up the door for more installation horror stories to come out.

  14. SafetyHelmet says:

    It’s funny that he states there was an “overabundance of caution” which resulted in the fire department being called. Who actually called them, I wonder?

    Verizon, iIf you’re being so extravagantly cautious, maybe you should train your techs to check for ELECTRICAL MAINS (which can kill someone in a heartbeat!) before you allow them to drill and cut holes in a house.

  15. FullFlava says:

    @mbills2:

    You’re gonna get me busted for laughing too hard at work. F’ing brilliant.

  16. Miss Anthropy says:

    You’re having difficulty understanding why Verizon is so strongly defending themselves? Wouldn’t you if someone accused you of “setting a house on fire”? That’s a whole lot different than what I see in the pictures.

    Maybe if you guys weren’t always so quick with the dramatic (and usually inacurrate) headline, Verizon wouldn’t feel the need to so vigorously defend themselves.

    Also note that NO ONE AT ANY TIME SAW FLAMES, at least according to the accounts you provided, so the fire chief’s statement that “if there’s flame, there’s fire” is pretty much irrelevant to this.

    Please, please do a little more research and follow some reasonable logic before posting inflammatory (heh) headlines.

  17. ancientsociety says:

    As PTKDUDE said, the extent and duration of the fire is a moot point. There was a fire – end of discussion. And, as to whether this could happen with any home improvement project, is irrelevant. It happened in this situation – apologize, pay for the repair, and then STFU.

    And one certainly can’t fault the fire dept for causing damage to put out a fire that could have consumed the entire house. Personally, I’d choose the damaged wall over a burned-down house, thank you very much.

  18. gibsonic says:

    CABLE GUY meets FIRE MARSHALL BILL!

  19. upokyin says:

    I agree that Verizon is handling this poorly, but to characterize their behavior as intimidation or bullying is a stretch. It was just a whiny blog post.

  20. gibsonic says:

    @ancientsociety:

    and let’s not forget that the thousands of acres burned in forest fires each year are often started by a small ember from a non-extinguished cigarette flung from a passer-by’s window.

  21. Cowboys_fan says:

    Verizon didn’t start the fire, they just drilled the power line, the power line being drilled caused the fire. See, there can still be a fire and not be verizon’s fault :p

  22. topgun says:

    I’m not trying to defend Verizon’s installer, but has nobody here EVER fucked up? If you haven’t please contact me because I have a very high paying executive position in my company for you.

  23. verizon’s attempt at covering their asses, while throwing in “vague” advertising, gives me no reason to feel any sympathy towards them.

    ..i can only laugh.

  24. Brian Gee says:

    @topgun: They’re being weasels. Yes, they are fixing the damage to the house that they ultimately caused. That’s a good thing.

    Dragging this guy over the coals like they’re doing, and calling him a liar is ridiculous. The tech hit a wire and started a small fire. They’re fixing it. End of story. The whole “I’m not going to say there was a fire, but if there was it only did a little damage” routine is a bunch of BS. Its unnecessarily keeping this story alive.

    Maybe that’s their goal. Free publicity for FIOS, and the whole marketing department gets to make asses of themselves with fire puns.

  25. axiomatic says:

    If Verizon would hurry up and implement FIOS in Houston, TX I would gladly let them set fire to my whole house.

  26. FLConsumer says:

    I think Verizon’s totally overreacting to this (and drawing far more attention to themselves than if they had let it pass). Does this stuff happen regularly? Absolutely! I think many of us probably have heard of, or experienced, one utility cutting another. I’ve had both cable & phone companies cut each others’ lines. I’ve also had the cable co dead-short underground powerlines with spectacular results, which resulted in them buying me a new microwave, new televisions, and several other appliances which were destroyed by their handiwork.

    Unlike Verizon, the power company AND cable company had called me before I even got home to let me know there was a problem and they both said they would pay for any & all damages right up-front. None of this finger-pointing or debating what constitutes damage. The power company ultimately cut the check and I guess the cable co ended up paying the power co for damage to their lines and homeowners’ property. NO fuss, no muss. Just an honest mistake and honest companies doing what they should have.

  27. Hawk07 says:

    Should be an easy lawsuit for the homeowner should Verizon continue this nonsense.

    Hopefully the Verizon lawyers and PR assholes will have a similar situation happen to them when their own homes get a triple play package since it’s really not that big of a deal to hit the main electric line and have a little smoke.

  28. Uriel says:

    @chimmike:

    I believe the fire chief was already quoted as saying “where there’s flames, there’s fire”, meaning there was a noticeable fire…

    “……oops.”

  29. torqueU says:

    Beavis says

    Fios… heh heh heh

  30. CumaeanSibyl says:

    What the hell is this about?

    Well, one certainly hates to fan the flames of Paul McNamara’s efforts to take down Verizon.

    Dude, he’s not trying to TAKE you DOWN. He wrote about this accidental thing that happened, and that would’ve been the end of it if you hadn’t decided to quibble about semantics. Shelve the persecution complex, geez.

  31. netbuzz says:

    I don’t have a lot of time to write — after all, trying to take down Verizon is a time-consuming task — but I thought anyone who’s read this far into this mess might be interested in my reply to the Verizon veep’s post. Found here:

    [www.networkworld.com]

    Now back to demolition.

  32. Jerim says:

    No fan of Verizon myself, but they have a point. If the fire department had decided to tear down the whole wall, should Verizon be responsible? Is Verizon responsible for any action the fire decides to take? I can sort of understand taking the dry wall out to have a look, but honestly, busting through the outside wall was ridiculous. And I think Verizon is trying to do something reasonable, which is counter outrageous claims that the guy’s house was in flames, but they are doing a poor job of it. I would offer to replace the drywall on the inside. For the outside wall, they need to talk to the fire department. I don’t like out of control companies either, but I hate out of control customers who make every story out to be a thousand times bigger than they actually are.

  33. Jerim says:

    Sorry, where I said “fire decides to take” I mean “firemen decide to take.”

  34. North of 49 says:

    looking at those pics of holes in the wall…

    If I was the homeowner and a cable or telco came in to do something and left that mess, I would be livid and demand they put my house back the way they found it! Drywall damage and more.

  35. jonnyobrien says:

    On http://www.firenews.org under ‘Spotlight Photos’ about halfway down there is a photo of the firefighters at the house.

    I would think John Galla would be happy to point you to the photographer who took the photo, and to help get any of the other photos taken that day while the Needham FD was on scene.

  36. 3drage says:

    @Jerim “If the fire department had decided to tear down the whole wall, should Verizon be responsible?”

    Indeed Verizon is responsible. The negligence of their company representative, and all damages thereof are the liability of the careless mistake. It’s basic Tort study.

  37. erica.blog says:

    @Cowboys_fan: No, it is NSTAR’s fault for supplying electricity to the house in the first place.

    Actually, I’d rather blame Ben Franklin for flying his damn kite and starting this whole electricity fad. THANKS FOR BURNING DOWN HOUSES IN NEEDHAM AND MAKING VERIZON LOOK BAD, BEN!

  38. cryrevolution says:

    @Jerim: The fire department were taking the necessary measures needed when theres SMOKE. You can’t very well BLAME the fire department for searching for a fire when they see smoke. The tech drilled where he wasn’t supposed to, caused it to smoke, FD was called out, Verizon foots the bill. That is it.

  39. cryrevolution says:

    *The fire department WAS taking the…

    sheesh. lol.

  40. azntg says:

    I’ve saw this from another Consumerist blog comment, but Verizon should seriously consider using the rock instrumental rendition of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire” for their advertisements LOL.

    But make no mistake, I love how everybody tries oh-so desperately to cover things up and almost always resort to accusing others in some form.

  41. chimmike says:

    @Miss Anthropy:

    thank you. That’s what I’m saying. Regardless of removing wood or not, there WOULD be extra damage in the way of soot or water damage if in fact the fire department had to respond in kind to a fire.

    I didn’t see anything there, either, that said Verizon wasn’t picking up the tab for the repairs……..

  42. killavanilla says:

    This is what happens when people with flattering degrees but not much brains tries to apply the idea of spin to what should have and could have been done much better.
    Instead of arguing with a blogger about whether or not there was fire – why not just say – ‘Our installer made a common mistake that occurs with some frequency whenever any home improvement involving drilling through walls is neccessary. We will cover all costs of repair as well as offer the homeowner 6 months of free service.”
    Bam. Done. Instead of looking like they are trying to shimmy out of something, they look like they are being good guys.
    Man I hate cable companies!
    Note to marketing and PR folks – KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPIDS.
    ‘We are sorry. We will cover costs. We will make it up to the customer. This sort of thing is rare.’
    Done.
    FiOS doesn’t sound like ‘fire’. No one expects their home to light on fire when a cable installer shows up.
    So basically, some spazzy know it all with a big mouth and far less sense than he should have just made verizon look even worse.
    Good job, Verizon.
    Way to put the customers first.

  43. Blueskylaw says:

    “The next day the customer allowed us to finish the installation of her new FiOS TV, Internet, and phone service”

    Which by the way are selling like hotcakes LOL

  44. Jerim says:

    @3drage:

    Even the most basic tort case has limits. If someone runs over your foot, and you demand to be airlifted to the most prestigious hospital in the country, plus be seen by the most expert of doctors in addition to having every test in the known universe run, you aren’t entitled to those expenses. The cost of a trip to the local ER for an X-ray and maybe a cast? Yes. Just because it is someone else’s dime doesn’t mean you can go crazy.

  45. Jerim says:

    @cryrevolution:

    I am not disputing that Verizon should cover the bill of reasonable measures. I don’t see how knocking through the outside wall was reasonable. Knocking out a one square foot hole in the drywall around the drill hole should have been very sufficient for finding the source of the smoke and putting it out. I didn’t see one drop of the spray foam they use to put out electrical fires in those pictures. I am guessing by the time the fire department got finished having fun ripping the wall apart, the fire had already gone out. Verizon should be responsible for reasonable damages. Again, if the fire department had decided to rip the whole wall down “just to be on the safe side” I wouldn’t expect Verizon to pay up.

    Something I just noticed, is that there doesn’t seem to be any electrical wires in those pictures. You have the outlet over to the left and what could be a grey cable running along the bottom of the frame in the second picture, but that wire isn’t anywhere near where they technician was drilling. I don’t see this main that the Verizon guy allegedly drilled into. Even if they removed sections of the wiring, there should be some pieces left. A loose wire here and there.

  46. cryrevolution says:

    @Jerim: So, Jerim, what exactly do you propose? Sue the fire department? Have Verizon pay for, oh say, half the repairs and leave the other half untouched? I’m sure we can all question the tactics used by the FD somehow, but if I saw smoke coming from anywhere, I would most definitely take ANY and ALL measure to ensure there is no fire. The fact that the FD had to do anything to that wall means Verizon needs to take responsibility, no matter what extent. Because the fact here is, if the tech had not drilled wrong, the FD wouldn’t have needed to be called. Simple.

  47. cryrevolution says:

    *measures

    lol. Oh and another thing-these pictures were taken by Verizon themselves. I’m sure we all needed to really BE THERE to see the extent of damage and if they did in fact used spray foam or what not. Despite that fact, I don’t see the logic in just paying for just some of the damages.

  48. Trackback says:

    Yes, we’re all pyromaniacs at heart. First there were the exclusive new pics of AT&T’s fiber node blow-up, and now there’s a Verizon story of a FiOS installer possibly starting a fire when he drilled through an electrical main.

  49. seannj427 says:

    This website is hilarious but also quite telling!
    Verizon has bet the farm on FiOS so I suspect the goal was to try to put a positive spin on the situation… But frankly as a utility this kind of error can be easily avoided with training and proper safety prevention which it would appear was either not present or ignored in this case.
    We used to have statements at our desks like “Safety first, etc”. And that’s still part of our daily deal,but, less emphasis has been placed on that and more on ‘speed to market’ and getting FiOS out there.
    I can also say that you can never blame the fire department 100%… Sometimes they don’t have the equipment (foam?) and sometimes they have it but aren’t trained how to use it. And this is because many times the municipality will not pay for the equipment, or won’t pay for the training for the equipment. So regardless of the fact that they ripped a gargantuan hole in this person’s house (not fun!), I’m sure they were just trying to be thorough. At least no one was hurt…
    -S

  50. riespzs says:

    Attention should be given to the training of Verizon tech. My home was damaged by the same situation…the tech drilled into the main electrical power source to my home. Differences…I had 6 children sleeping inside that had to go outside in freezing temps while the firemen cut out our walls, and to date (this happened Dec. 20, 07) my house is not repaired to its original condition even tho I have made 5+ calls to the head of installation in Northern Virginia. Any suggestion? Oh and by way we do not Fios which was a Christmas gift to our family.

  51. mbressman says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it an invasion of the homeowner’s privacy for Verizon to post those photos? It’s one thing to post photos of the outside of the house, where there’s no real expectation of privacy (see Google Maps Street View), but these photos seem to be of internal house areas (albeit crawlspaces and insulation areas – but areas that aren’t viewable from a public perspective nonetheless).

    It’s one thing for Verizon to have these photos (they probably have a right to them depending on what type of legal or other action is ongoing or even in order to justify repairs that they might voluntarily make as a result of their “alleged mistake”) and keep them internal to the company, but to publish these photos seems to be a major violation of the homeowner’s privacy (unless of course he’s previously given Verizon his permission – which seems somewhat unlikely).

    Anyone care to comment…?

  52. VRWC says:

    IMO, Consumerist seems to be going out the way to bash Verizon.

    Sure, there was an accident and there may have been a small fire. It’s important to note, however, that the house most certainly was NOT “set ablaze”, as even the most casual observer can see.

    Pointing out the rhetoric from Verizon is fair, but ignoring the rhetoric and exaggeration from the other side is disingenuous.

    If I were Verizon, I’d be pissed off too. Pointing out the failings of companies is fair game, and I think that Consumerist does a good job at at that. It’s an entirely different story, however, to bash companies unfairly, and that’s what it seems consumerist is doing here.

    I used to be a faithful Consumerist reader — now I’m lucky if I get here once per week. Your irrational and wholly one-sided onslaught on several major companies is obvious in this post and has made me look elsewhere for more objective reading.