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Business steps into restoration

ServiceMaster still cleans carpets, but has expanded into many maintenance tasks

Gary Williams often worked with Karl Hamasu over the past 20 years as the ServiceMaster franchise owner worked on fire restoration projects.

Williams, a floor covering salesman, saw varying degrees of damage on the projects and watched Hamasu's staff save what they could, nursing an ailing home back to normal.

Then last October, Williams' own Medford home caught fire, damaging belongings and disrupting everyday life for months.

The furniture, appliances and cabinets had to be replaced, Williams says. They kept trying to save things that get ruined by the acid and moisture in smoke. It etched the counter tops. The kitchen and bathrooms had to be repainted and we had to replace all the doors.

You never know what goes on with a house fire until you've been through one. It was quite an ordeal, but we're just about done.

— During the past 21 years, Hamasu and his staff have stepped into the restoration breach about 2,000 times, working with as many as 11 insurance companies.

When Hamasu acquired the Medford franchise in 1983, jobs were scarce throughout the Rogue Valley, primarily because the timber industry was in deep recession. He had worked for ServiceMaster operators in between attending Simpson College, then located in San Francisco but now in Redding, Calif. When a franchise came open in Medford, his mother-in-law urged him to snap it up.

Last year, Hamasu added a franchise in Grants Pass and on Jan. — of this year he purchased one in Ashland that specializes in cleaning oriental rugs and wood floors. His firm has grown to 15 employees. ServiceMaster janitorial and cleaning franchises are held by other operators in the area.

Hamasu's tenure and growth as a ServiceMaster franchise holder has paralleled the rise of Southern Oregon's service economy as a whole.

Oregon Employment Department figures show 8,040 people were employed in the service sector in 1980, accounting for 18.5 percent of the nonfarm work force in Jackson County. In 2000, the service sector had swollen to 20,900 workers, representing 28.3 percent of the county's nonfarm workers.

While the county's overall employment grew 70 percent in two decades, the service sector grew by 160 percent. An Employment Development Department report projects that the service sector would show the second-highest employment gain behind health care between now and 2012, growing 15.7 percent.

As we've advanced so has the whole industry, Hamasu says. I think the competition has gotten a lot more keen. But I don't think there's a bad-guy, good-guy approach; we're just all trying to run a business. Everyone is acting a lot quicker and you have to have the computer skills.

He says the typical water damage project costs about &

36;3,000 to repair, while fire damage repair typically runs roughly &

36;60,000.

We've handled claims all the way from &

36;150 to a &

36;240,000 fire damage restoration project that involved 12 people for three-quarters of a year following a July 4, 2001, fire in Ashland.

Insurance companies have been able to control costs by contracting with restoration and maintenance companies that cover most of the country. ServiceMaster, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based company with a history stretching back to 1929, filled that need. Marion Wade founded the company and began franchising a carpet cleaning service in 1947 in response to the wall-to-wall carpet boom that followed World War II.

The company has since expanded into landscape maintenance, pest control, plumbing, heating and air conditioning maintenance and repair, appliance maintenance and repair, cleaning and furniture maintenance and home warranties.

One of the more intriguing tasks Hamasu's staff has undertaken was in Grants Pass, where a raccoon that had been sprayed by a skunk decided to hole up beneath a house. The pungent aroma seeped upward into the living quarters, creating quite a stink for the owner whose insurance covered such eventualities.

Certain animals are not under insurance, but the raccoon was, Hamasu says.

The raccoon hissed a bit when a pair of Hamasu's employees crawled beneath the house, but was otherwise compliant. The house had to be treated for skunk odors.

Not long after another Grants Pass family remodeled their home, the wife began suffering coughing fits at night.

She starts coughing, the husband is fine, and he thinks she's crazy because she starts hacking and coughing every night, Hamasu says.

Then a water spot appeared in the ceiling.

The heating and air conditioning unit in the attic had been improperly installed, Hamasu says. The air was condensing and dripping into the attic, creating a mold situation.

ServiceMaster reset the furnace and cleaned the residual mold throughout the house.

That was two years ago, Hamasu says. After that, she had no problems at all.

Karl Hamasu, a ServiceMaster franchise holder in the Rogue Valley, probes carpeting for water in a home damaged by fire. The bulk of his 21-year-old business comes from restoration contracts with insurance companies. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli