It’s 5:30 a.m. on the morning of Mother’s Day 2015. While most people across the U.S. are fast asleep or pondering, making Mom breakfast in bed, Dana Jennings is answering a call for help from a local restaurant owner. Fire broke out just hours earlier inside an antique store in the historic downtown district of Utica, Ill. By the time the fire was put out, three additional businesses – including that restaurant – and several apartments were damaged – many, severely.
As soon as the fire department released the scene, Jennings wasted no time getting his team at Rainbow International of the Illinois Valley rolling.
“We ended up responding about 10 o’clock that morning. We sent a crew out just to do emergency mitigation – set up some drying equipment, air scrubbers, and deodorizers,” Jennings said. “In the meantime, we had all the surrounding buildings call us as well.”
Monday morning, Jennings met with the owners of the impacted buildings and insurance adjusters and kicked off a plan.
“It was beyond what our team alone could handle, so we called in another Rainbow International franchise to help,” Jennings explained. “Basically there were three buildings – there was Skoog’s Pub, Flutterby Popcorn Store and Joy & Ed’s. The Orland Park team took Joy & Ed’s.”
So let’s take a moment to break down the scope of this fire, which in all covered about half a city block – and about 13,000 square feet of space in the connected buildings. Skoog’s Pub consisted of the bar and restaurant, plus two apartments and the basement and had smoke damage throughout. There was heavy water and smoke damage at Flutterby, impacting the store itself, upstairs apartment and basement. Plus, the building that housed Joy & Ed’s had smoke damage to the restaurant, an upstairs apartment, and also the basement. The antique store where the fire started is not being restored.
The popcorn store job was temporarily put on hold. The damage was so extensive the building was going to need to be gutted. So Jennings’ team focused on Skoog’s Pub, and the Orland franchise team tackled Joy & Ed’s.
“The name of the game was how quickly we could get the owner, Mick Carey, back in business,” said John Gurtler, owner of Rainbow International of Orland Park. “That was [Mick’s] main concern, and it was our responsibility to meet some deadlines.”
And meet some deadlines, they did.
Gurtler brought in a team of 13 to 15 people who quickly went to work cleaning the structure and throwing out contaminated items. Every glass, table, chair, wall hanging, etc. was cleaned while others spent time wet-washing and HEPA-vacuuming, cleaning ducts, press-washing the limestone and concrete foundation, and more.
“I think in general, the complexity was dealing with a building over 100 years old and trying to follow where the soot went in the wall cavities,” Gurtler said as he explained the inner details of the restoration process. “They had limestone foundation in the basement that was crumbling, so it was a little big difficult to remove the odor. It took a little bit more elbow grease than we expected, but we were able to completely get it taken care of.”
Mick Carey admits he didn’t think the crew would get him open for breakfast Friday morning – but they did.
“When it happened, it happened great. Everything worked out great for me. The guys and gals did a great job on the whole outfit,” Carey said. “It looked like a new place when they were done – they really shined up everything.”
Meanwhile, Jennings’ team got to work inside Skoog’s Pub, which turned out to be a much more labor-intensive job due to the extent of the damage.
“Cleaning took almost three weeks because they ended up having to replace all their tables, their booths, every lick of food and alcohol… because the smoke was so heavy in there,” he said.
Jennings’ team meticulously took inventory of all the non-salvageable items, then got to work on the restoration. Soon, they found a problem.
“Because they are old buildings, they are not air-tight. So basically we are running into … to this day… an odor inside Skoog’s so we have hydroxyl machines running 24/7 there,” he explained.
Essentially, the air system is believed to be pulling air from the antique store, including the smoke smell. Jennings said it could be a constant battle with that odor until the antique store is torn down.
Plus, above the drop ceiling inside the pub was an old, decorative tin ceiling. It had layers of paint that may have contained lead. So instead of disturbing that area, ozone machines were placed in the ceiling to battle the odor rather than go through an entire lead abatement project and further delay the business’s reopening.
Despite those few setbacks, Skoog’s was open less than three weeks after the fire.
“They ended up opening with card tables and chairs,” Jennings remarked. “They didn’t have bar stools either, so everyone went home and brought their own bar stools in there for the big night, the grand opening.”
In time, workers started evaluating and doing what they could at Flutterby, the popcorn store, and turned it back over to the owner for repairs.
“At first glance, it didn’t look too bad,” Jennings recalled. “But because it was an old building, the way it was put together, layers upon layers, we ended up gutting it. It’s probably about 90 percent gutted because of smoke in all the layers.”
Both Jennings and Gurtler agree having a partner nearby to help on big jobs like this is key.
“We have a good working relationship with Dana. We get along well,” Gurtler said. “What we deal with in emergency situations it can be difficult to assemble a crew in a matter of hours and to have the job go smoothly with all the complexities that are involved. So, being surrounded by other resources is a hug benefit we have.”
And Jennings agreed, “We’ve called them in to take jobs or help us out when we get massive flooding. I’ve known them for years. We’ve always been friends, rented equipment to each other… we’ve just got a great franchise relationship.”
Jennings also complimented the city for being really accommodating, “They allowed us to shut down parking spaces and set up dumpsters. It was one of those small towns where everyone wanted to get their businesses up and running, so everyone wanted to accommodate us and the business owners’ needs.”
Twenty-five dumpsters and 13,000 square feet later, apartments were restored – and businesses reopened after a fire that threatened to claim the heartbeat of a small town.
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