ELLICOTT, Colo. (KKTV) - For the Barben family, propane is necessary to survive. Their home is heated thanks to propane, their stove and oven burn the gas to function, and even their hot water comes in part from that white round tank outside.
They are similar to most people out along Highway 94 near Ellicott, relying on the gas to keep their homes warm year-round. They are also similar because they are having trouble with the company in charge of keeping their tank full.
Henderson Propane is one of the first businesses you can spot on the way into Ellicott heading east and has passed through family hands for years.
In an 11 Call for Action investigation, 11 News reporter Spencer Wilson spoke with customers and the owner of the company.
“Overall they [Henderson Propane] have been a good company, overall we’ve never had an issue with them. They've been on time, always been courteous, they were really great about coming out once a month like they are supposed to," Robyn Barben recalled. "Just something about this winter.”
She's been missing fillups on and off this winter, dropping down to 3 percent left in the tank at her worst. She said her neighbors actually emptied their tanks and had trouble getting someone out to refill it. Barben said she has been calling and calling over and over to Henderson Propane and usually would get a promise that someone would take care of her problem that same day, but no one would show up.
Their tank was just filled in the last few days, but the problem all boils down to one issue.
“Right now we are low on drivers," Danny Gillis, owner and manager of Henderson Propane, admits. "We’ve had three drivers quit in the last few months. It takes us a while to get drivers trained and back up to driving to where they know the roads; you don’t want drivers out around in a hazardous material truck and not know what they are doing.”
Gillis explained he lost his drivers due to other job opportunities. Now it's just him and his son trying to cover the same ground as all five of them put together. It doesn't help that winter is their business month.
"We haven’t been in any earlier than midnight or 1 in the morning. We are working weekends, holidays, everything. The office did close on President’s Day, but the drivers were out driving,” Gillis added.
But even while Gillis scrambles to keep up, there are some customers who are left with empty tanks and no way to heat their homes.
Gillis said he is working on a priority-based system, targeting the customers who have the least amount of propane left in their tanks and trying to get them first, but admits there are a "good number" of people who are still waiting to get refilled.
The job requires that a driver have a Class B driver's license and be certified for hazmat, so it's tough to get replacements right away. He has already found one replacement but said he still needs two more to be back up to full staff, and it will take three weeks to get each driver trained.
In the meantime, Gillis has seen the internet outcry.
“There’s quite a few people on Facebook, it’s a free country, they can do what they want. What I would like to see is if someone is going to bash me, come talk to my face and tell me what the problem is and let's solve it," Gillis said. "There’s not a problem that can’t be solved by talking to somebody and getting it down to the root of the problem and explaining it.”
Gillis said he's expecting things to get back to normal in the next three weeks.