Fire victims getting clean start after house fires


KENMORE, N.Y. (WIVB) – When fire tears through someone’s home, the scene is usually crowded with helpers, from firefighters to the Salvation Army and the Red Cross.

But in the aftermath, when families are beginning to pick up the pieces, more help is needed, and Colvin Cleaners is often called on to assist.

They’ve offered fire and water restoration services out of their Elmwood Avenue location for 45 years, dry cleaning and laundering items that have been damaged or dirtied by house fires. Colvin Cleaners works with families all the way from Erie, Pennsylvania, to Syracuse to pick up the pieces after a disaster.

“Your wardrobe and your clothing, it’s taken you a lifetime to acquire. There’s memories behind it. You remember certain pictures of you wearing something; you got it for your birthday or your anniversary,” Colvin Cleaners Vice President Chris Billoni pointed out. “So when everything is covered in soot and smoke and it’s damaged, to be able to come in and repair and actually save those items for people is pretty special for us.”

It’s not just clothes that need to be cared for.

Bedding, curtains, and even stuffed animals are often left sooty and stinky after a blaze.

“If you’ve ever gone to a bonfire and you stand there for ten minutes, your whole wardrobe smells like smoke, your hair smells like smoke. Imagine everything in your entire house having that smell,” Billoni said. “It’s unlivable.”

Getting the smell out, and whatever else needs to happen to bring those items back to life, is a challenge above and beyond the usual dry cleaning job.

“There are some special cleaning techniques that we have,” Billoni said. “We are constantly looking in the industry for new technology, new cleaning solutions.”

Colvin Cleaners only uses environmentally-friendly cleaning solutions, even for the toughest fire and water restoration jobs.

And, those services are covered by homeowners and renters insurance. Colvin Cleaners works directly with the insurance companies, so fire victims don’t have to handle any bills.

They also offer free storage for the items they restore for as long as it takes for a family to get back into their own home.

“We take everything in, we itemize it, we’ll do a complete walk through with the customer. We label everything by room so that when we do clean it, and they move back into their house, we put it back the way it was. It’s going in the same closet, the same dresser,” Billoni explained.

Billoni says it’s very rewarding to be able to provide this service to people in their time of need.

“We’re just happy to help and our team has a lot of fun with it,” he said.

Of course, the Colvin Cleaners team also helps a lot of other families in the community, too, between the two charities they run.

Donations are already coming in for both Coats 4 Kids and Gowns for Prom. The gowns will be distributed again this spring. The coats will be distributed in the fall.

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