NORTH HUNTINGDON (KDKA) – A fire destroyed a dry cleaning business in Westmoreland County Sunday night.
The word for this fire may very well be “challenge.”
It was a challenge for the some 300 firefighters on scene to finally put the flames out and it will be a challenge for both the employer and the employees as they pick up the pieces.
“I’ve been here for 30 years and this is like my family, gone,” employee Pat Cimba said.
Cimba was one of many employees showing up for work at the Joseph Krow Company in North Huntington, only to see the more than 60-year-old commercial laundry and dry cleaning firm with more than 200 employees in ruin.
“It was just a tough fire to fight,” Hartford Heights Volunteer Fire Department Chief Sean Oskin said.
Joseph Krow Dry Cleaning Company provides services for about 4,200 retail cleaners across the country. They are the nation’s largest specialty dry cleaner in the United States. Because orders go in and out on Saturday, most orders were already on their way back to their owners and new orders were still in the trucks outside.
The flames were first spotted around 8 p.m. Sunday and it burned for more than 10 hours.
“We had a lot of hazardous materials. It’s just like an inferno in there. We made the evacuation first because one back part of the building collapsed a little bit,” Chief Oskin said.
And it just kept burning.
“There’s still a lot of hot spots in there that we can’t really get to yet. We’re [going to] have to go in there and start ripping it apart,” Chief Oskin said
Two firefighters went to the hospital. One suffered a back injury, while the other suffered a broken ankle. Both are expected to be okay. The building owner also had to be taken to the hospital.
There was concern that the entire building could collapse after a small portion did in the back, so firefighters had to evacuate.
According to 24-year employee, Michelle Crooks, much more than a building is gone.
“The clothes, the wedding gowns, the coats that are in there,” Crooks said. “Wedding gowns are so important to people. Women treasure them and I had so many in there.”
Firefighters believe the fire may have started in a maintenance room, but because of the extent of the damage they may never know why.
“This is a family. We are a family,” Cimba said. “I will be back. Yes, I will.”
The total cost of the damage has yet to be determined, but the owner of the company said they are fully insured.
The company will keep as many employees as possible on the job until they are able to fully rebuild.