Cleaner helps lift town in tragedy
A tragedy that could have torn a small community apart ended up bringing it closer together.
When 19 Prescott Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives on June 30 while fighting the Yarnell Fire, it was considered the sixth deadliest American firefighter disaster of all time.
Fortunately, the fire was extinguished less than two weeks later. However, the impact of the event lasted much longer as several ongoing funerals and ceremonies honored the fallen heroes for weeks to come.
Numerous visitors arrived in town daily, including hundreds of honor guard, police, fire, forestry and other agency officials who came to pay respect at the services. The town of Prescott showed its respect, as well.
“Restaurants were opening, giving food to the guys. People were opening up their homes as a place for them to stay at,” recalled Dave Pollock, the local owner of Mountain Air Cleaners.
Pollock wanted to help, too. When he received phone calls from honor guard members and other officials inquiring about cleaning their uniforms for the services, he decided to do it for free.
“I figured we got to do what we got to do to take care of these guys,” he noted. “They had enough other things to worry about.”
Still fresh on everybody’s minds was a recent fire near Prescott that occurred just before the Yarnell Fire.
“About a week or two before that we had another fire called the Doce fire,” Pollock said. “The Doce fire came really close to a lot of homes in Williamson Valley, even within a couple of hundreds yards or less… some were even 250 feet or so from the people’s homes. These were the guys who saved their homes.”
The people of Prescott were certainly fond of their firefighting Hotshots. Pollock was no exception. He remembered how he had cleaned the wedding dress of the wife of one of the men who didn’t survive the Yarnell Fire.
“It’s weird now to think about it,” he said.
When the woman loaned a dress to a friend for her to use at her own wedding, it ended up never being worn. Instead, it got dirty all over again.
“Then when an honor guard found out about what happened — what the situation was of that particular dress — we cleaned it and boxed it up for her really quickly,” Pollock said. “The honor guard came over, picked it up and delivered it back to her with the same flag that had draped over his body in Yarnell.”
So, offering to clean the uniforms of the men coming into town to honor the Hotshots just seemed like the right thing to do. The job soon grew in scope, however, when all of the other cleaners in town began recommending people to take their uniforms to Mountain Air, as well.
“We’re the only place in town that has same-day turnaround,” Pollock explained. “In the beginning, we figured we’d be pretty busy, but we didn’t expect what ended up happening. We were turning things out just as fast as we could, constantly, non-stop.”
Pollock estimates (he lost track in the chaos) that approximately 180 uniforms came pouring in from officials hailing from all over, including California, Texas, Oregon and even Canada. Some were even cleaned numerous times and almost all of them needed to be returned in a hurry.
Normally closed on the weekends, Pollock opened his plant up seven days a week, often having crews start as early as 5 a.m.
“The other problem was that it was really, really hot,” he said. “These guys were in full, heavy uniforms, sweating away. These uniforms were really dirty.”
Making matters logistically worse, heavy storms followed.
“They were holding services in pouring rain,” he added. “At the end of the day, they’d grab me and say, ‘We need them again by tomorrow morning.’ I couldn’t dryclean them when they’re soaking wet. We had to figure out a way to get them all dried out first without causing any damage or shrinking issues.”
After an intense week-and-a-half, things finally slowed back down, which was a good thing since Pollock needed to focus again on paying customers.
“It was financially difficult because a lot of our regular customers came in and saw what was going on and they said, ‘Don’t worry about our stuff.’ They said they’d be upset with me if I didn’t take care of those guys first,” he recalled.
While Pollock admitted that spending so much time without much revenue coming in hurt, he doesn’t regret the gesture. In fact, he was surprised at how well his efforts were received.
Honor Guard Coordinator Kevin Bergersen was so appreciative of the free cleaning services that he recommended Pollock for the local Channel 5 Pay It Forward Program which awards $500 to those who contribute to the community. Ultimately though, Pollock feels as if his actions were no different from the rest of the local residents.
“I like the smaller town feel here and the fact that people are like that,” he said. “Everybody is willing to help out. It’s nice to see the whole town do that and really come together.”