“Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
A few years ago, while picking up my dry cleaning…
There was a short line at my local dry cleaners. I have been a loyal customer here for a very long time. When the wife saw me enter she immediately began getting my things together so that I wouldn’t have to wait. Unfortunately, she had no idea how long the customer in front of me was going to take.
“I have these stains on my leather….”
I tune them out. There is only one register so I knew I would have to wait a few minutes. I began day dreaming…
“How much would it cost to set up a dry cleaner?”
“Could I just outsource the dry cleaning and just set up a large ‘closet’ for the cleaned clothing?”
Something caught my eye as I was scanning the room and the racks and stacks and the machines.
An orange light in the the ceiling. One of the ceiling tiles had been removed and I could see light, an orange light, kind of going on and off just inside.
“What’s going on up there?”
“They worky to fix’eh the roof.”
“Oh. Did that tile fall?”
“No, no. Man move it morning.”
OK. I guess they were never much into conversations.
I am not staring at the hole with the orange glow. I suddenly see welding sparks fall from the hole and onto the floor. That’s not right.
“You sure it is okay for them to work over the machines and chemicals like that?”
“Yes, yes. No probble. Man look morning.”
More sparks are starting to fall. The orange glow is now increasing its intensity and the flickering had stopped. Whatever was glowing was about to turn into a fireball.
I jump the counter as I yell to the wife and husband…
“CALL 9/11! CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT!”
They were in shock.
I grab her by the arm and shake her.
“CALL FIRE NOW!”
The leather customer runs out. The customer that came in behind me with her clothes hanging near the counter, grabbed her clothes and ran out. She didn’t pay.
I am trying to clear the area of chemicals and falling debris. I have managed to kick the clothes rack that moves around the store to make removing and saving clothes as easy as possible. We might not need it, but you never know.
“START TAKING THE CLOTHES OUTSIDE.”
The husband is frantic and just follows orders.
The wife, meanwhile, is frantic. She cannot dial those three numbers. 9. 1. 1.
I stare at her.
She is sobbing and trying to dial.
The doughnut shop owner came over and assisted.
The clothes were piling up outside. The fire was growing. It was spreading fast. Between the old ceiling tiles, the dust between the pipes and the paper in the wire covers… this was going to move very, very fast. Faster than I could keep up with it.
The doughnut shop owner was helping with the clothes. The husband’s shock was wearing off and he began to weep. The wife was hysterically running back and forth outside hoping to WILL INTO EXISTENCE a fire truck.
I was moving the chemicals in their containers away from the falling debris and the hole in the ceiling was getting larger and larger as more tiles were being engulfed from behind. Suddenly, about 1/3 of the ceiling fell. Dust, smoke, and fire were everywhere.
I grabbed the fire extinguisher.
I grabbed a hose that has attached to the faucet. I turned on the faucet.
I began to wet the chemicals and I began to wet everything around. I knew if I hit the fire directly I would only help to spread the fire. At this point it was someone contained to this unit. I did the quick math and then realized that there were 8 units in this shopping center. All separated by six inches of wall. Some concrete, some not.
I looked. It was concrete between the fire and the next unit.
I began to spray the base of the fire. They clothes were not being removed fast enough.
Fight the fire or save the clothes?
I dropped the hose. I ran to grab as many clothes as I could.
I could hear the fire engine in the distance.
We ended up getting about 80% of the clothing out. Another 10% or so were burned and the remaining had sustained water damage and were considered lost.
None of the chemicals caught fire.
One machine was damaged but it was salvaged. One sewing machine and 20 feet of rolling racks were destroyed. No one was injured.
I returned a few days later.
“How are you?”
I was greeted with sobs and hugs from the husband and wife.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“You save. You save.”
They pointed at the large mountain of “Saved” clothing. They would have to re-dry clean these, but they had no scent of smoke or fire and hadn’t gotten wet.
“Wow, that’s a lot of it.”
“Yes, yes. You. Thank you. “
I offered to help them with the paperwork for their insurance claim. I worked for an insurance company at the time so it was the least I could do to help them out.
They recovered nicely. They were able to update their sprinkler system to one that worked. They were able to get their unit up to code. And they were able to upgrade their logo and their counters and…
I didn’t pay for dry cleaning for a very, very long time.