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.

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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.