In Fire, Restoration, Services, Smoke

by Barb Jackson, CR

Cleaning & Restoration – June 2010 –

Steven Grindstaff owns a castle; there just isn’t any other way to say it. Some call it the “Crantzdorf Estate,” others call it “Grindstaff Castle.” And it is 20,000 square feet of absolute luxury.

The castle took over 10 years to complete and included antique fireplaces, grand ceilings, massive custom-made furniture, hand cast moldings, Italian marble floors, stained glass, a vintage slate billiard table, Oriental rugs, tapestries, even an elegant, full-sized theater, an authentic Irish pub and an indoor basketball court.

Then, one cold January night, Mr. Grindstaff took his wife out for a dinner celebration and while they were away, lightning struck his home and started a fire that took 24 firefighters and 70,000 gallons of water to put out.

The house was saturated – so much so that the firemen cut holes in the structure just to let the water gush out before it began to tear the home apart.

What a man saves during a fire in his home says a lot about him. When Steven Grindstaff arrived on the scene, he didn’t try to get to his wife’s jewels. He didn’t grab a priceless painting or even a strongbox with important documents – no, Grindstaff went directly to the family dogs and got them out just fine. There were lots of other things that didn’t survive nearly as well.

The next day experts came in and told Grindstaff that walls would have to be torn out,” … down to the studs,” the beautiful molding would have to be destroyed, the wood floors were a total loss – and room by room they gave their dismal reports about what could not be saved.

But locally there was a fellow, Bob Pakrul, who had a restoration company, Spotless Carpet Cleaners and Janitorial Services, Inc., with a sterling reputation. He wasn’t the biggest in the area, or even the best known. He wasn’t even a full service contractor. The way Bob put it, “We are a drying out company – that’s what we do.”

He dries out contents, walls, floors – anything that is still standing. Any object that can be placed in a drying chamber is fair game. Pakrul says, “If it hasn’t already fallen down or isn’t about to fall, we can dry it and restore it.”

The experts pointed to things like a magnificent 20-foot “medallion” created from plaster and gold leaf by European artists and presented as part of one of the high arched ceilings – it was saturated and would have to go. Suspended from it was a grand chandelier (which was once seen in the motion picture, “The Haunting”). Maybe the chandelier could be salvaged – no one offered an opinion.

When Bob arrived on the scene, the first thing he saw was a pile of priceless Oriental rugs thrown carelessly into the front yard and so saturated with water that they had become a solid mass of ice and antique fabric.

Inside he saw the medallion in the ceiling. Could he do anything to save it? “Yes,” Pakrul thought to himself.

“The theater?” Pakrul nodded yes.

But surely he could not save the wood floors – the experts insisted that wood floors so thoroughly wet could not possibly be saved.

“Yes they can,” Pakrul answered.

The little pub? Pakrul, said, “Yes.”

The upholstery? The wood furniture? The giant table that sat 18 people? The slate billiard table that was standing in a pool of water?

Pakrul went room to room, heard the experts, ignored them and assured Mr. Grindstaff that it all could be saved.

Steve was justifiably skeptical. On the one hand, here stood men of reputation and experience saying that it was all a “write off.” And there stood a man who owned a carpet cleaning and janitorial service saying he could restore it.

Pakrul was a one man minority. But there was that one thing – that one little problem – his reputation. He was known as a man who could do what he said he could do.

Grindstaff wanted Pakrul to be right. All these wonders that were built into his home were about to be trashed, unless this one man was right.

“Well, go ahead and get started and we’ll see how things go,” he said to Pakrul uncertainly.

And the job began.

Pakrul knew that Steve was self-insured and that with all the experts telling him he was crazy for trusting Bob, he was going to need some convincing before he would allow him to launch the “big plan.” So, he called his friend, one of the industry’s top experts, Chuck Dewald.

He swung in the next day and looked over Pakrul’s strategies – then he walked Mr. Grindstaff through the house, creating the vision of what Bob was going to do. Steve knew Chuck by reputation and through research (he had “checked him out.”) As the morning wore on, he moved from uneasy skepticism, to hope, to full support.

This was going to work.

The Oriental rugs were moved to Pakrul’s headquarters and his staff started to restore them – later, they would be returned in pre-loss condition.

At Total Contentz, we have a slogan, “Adapt, create, proceed.” When we told that to Bob Pakrul, he said, “This whole job was exactly that. There were no precedents for anything we did. We created all sorts of new things to make our plan work.”

His facility was fully equipped for contents jobs, with everything from dehumidifiers and carpet cleaning equipment, to a drying chamber, and even an ultrasonics machine – but it wasn’t big enough to hold the massive furniture, drapes, carpets, antiques and any number of assorted treasures.

But Pakrul adapted, created and proceeded. He saw that Mr. Grindstaff owned an indoor basketball court and wondered if he could turn it into the world’s largest drying chamber – and of course, that is precisely what he did … using Chuck Dewald’s vortex drying techniques.

Next, he hired the best subcontractor he could find to move the contents into the basketball court.

Meanwhile, another crew was brought in to carefully inspect, evaluate, clean, pack and prepare the antiques and other fragile items for pack out.

Finally, a moving-van style truck was used to carry the items 300 yards from the main house to the indoor court.

Big items, like the massive glass top for the dining room table, were unattached, carried by as many as eight men and moved to the drying area as well.

The antique pool table got the same meticulous treatment and the exhausted transport group doggedly moved each piece to safety.

The huge medallion in the ceiling of the entryway was saved, the wood floors were saved, the antiques, the china, the contents of the pub, the theater, the furniture, the mantle – everything that Bob Pakrul said could be saved, was.

When asked how much money he saved for Steven Grindstaff and his wife, Pakrul just said, “Out of respect for Mr. Grindstaff’s privacy, I’m not going to share that, but I will say that if you go online, have a look at his home and see what thousands of other people have seen in recent months, you will have a pretty good idea of how well things turned out.”

Why did Steve choose Pakrul’s company over all the others – especially when all the experts said it was a foolish move? Some people think it was because he recognized a kindred spirit.

Pakrul doesn’t question it. He just knows he will do it again – when the job calls for it.

The Total Contentz philosophy has always been “restore more, replace less.” And now we would like to add our praise to the RIA’s highest honor – Bob Pakrul is this year’s Phoenix Award winner for “Innovation in Restoration.”

Congratulations Bob, Spotless Restoration and all who worked so professionally to complete this job!

Barb Jackson, CR. is president of Total Contentz. With overr 19 years of experience in the restoration and cleaning industry, she provides training, consulting and facility design services. For more information, e-mail her at