Tips N Chat Throwback #20: “Three People Hurt, One Customer Dead”

This week’s featured Tips N Chat Throwback post is from an editorial response written by Ed York and published in the January-February 1981 issue of Tips N Chat. Remember to check back every Thursday for a new throwback post!

THREE PEOPLE HURT, ONE CUSTOMER DEAD

“Chemical blast likely cause of fatal blaze” was the headline that recently screamed across the page of a Denver, Colorado newspaper. A two-column picture showed a firefighter helping a lady tenant, of the Cherry Condominiums, to safety after a two-alarm fire gutted the third floor, and caused heavy smoke damage to the remaining eight-story structure. Denver newspapers, radio, and TV reported the fatal fire was contributed to a workman who was cleaning a chair in the customer’s living room with a flammable solvent.

The employee who was identified as Wayne Eddy, of Colt Cleaners, tried to rescue the victim. When the fire broke out, Eddy is said to have taken the lady by the hand and tried to lead her to safety. All the exits were blocked. Mr. Eddy reported he urged the customer, Mrs. Gladys Nelson, age 68 to follow him. The last thing he heard, as he jumped to safety, was Mrs. Nelson’s screams for help. She did not jump. She perished. A later story published in a Denver newspaper identified the chemical used as one formulated by Professional Chemicals of Tempe, Arizona.

EDITORIAL RESPONSE
BY ED YORK

As Editor of a major trade publication, I attempted to clarify some of the facts given to the Colorado consumers during various news releases. I found a blanket of secrecy around every aspect. I was hung up on, threatened with lawsuits, and cussed out. THIS STORY MUST BE REPORTED. THE FACTS MUST BE CLEARED.

The entire cleaning industry is being held neglectful, to the point of causing the death of a customer. Pro Chem is left accused without any type of clarification. Actually, this company is standing behind a security shield. In all probability, they have nothing to hide. I, personally, have researched their dry solvents, and have found them safe when used as directed.

The news articles fail to tell if dry cleaning equipment was being used. If so, was the room ventilated, and exhaust hose utilized? Why was the customer in the condominium during the cleaning process? And the most important question I would like answered is regarding the chemical formula being used. While I find most of today’s chemicals are perfectly safe, they can be turned into a “tragedy waiting to happen”, when mixed by some of our “barnyard” chemists.

It is mandatory that every cleaner give immediate thought to the procedures and formulas they are now using. For example, a solvent with an extraordinary high flash point can be reduced to UNSAFE when mixed with a second. A solvent vapor aerated and spread over a large surface is certainly different than a volume of the same substance in a cup.

While it is past press time, and this issue is off to the printer, Tips N Chat will devote much of their next issue to SOLVENTS and FORMULAS now in use. We have discovered an early SCT bulletin referring to a questionable formula that has to be withdrawn from use. We are not assuming that anyone connected with the Cherry Condominium tragedy was doing anything wrong.

We do say that we must have some answers. So we can address ourselves to the areas that need concern. This could be equipment failure, but it could just as easily be operator training.

In the meantime let us make sure they are using their products as directed by the manufacturer. Don’t rely on the same “barnyard” formula, that someone says does a super job. Don’t take chances with the untested and unknown. A few degrees cleaner sofa will never take away the sound of your customer screaming for help as you jump for safety.

This week’s featured Tips N Chat Throwback post is from an editorial response written by Ed York and published in the January-February 1981 issue of Tips N Chat. Remember to check back every Thursday for a new throwback post! THREE PEOPLE HURT, ONE CUSTOMER DEAD “Chemical blast likely cause of fatal blaze” was the headline […]