Read on for the full transcript of the interview:
Q: Can you please state your full name?
A: Fred Luzzi.
Q: And when and where were you?
A: I was born in 1956 in Calabria, Italy.
Q: And what was your life like growing up?
A: It was tough in Italy. It was very tough. We lived on the farm. It was very old. Like, we are about 30 years behind the U.S., so it was still like the old Western days over there. Nobody had a car. We did everything. We grew all our own food, our own everything. We killed our own animals for food and raised them. That is how we got by. My dad always worked out of town. He used to go work in Germany, in the tunnels, while my mom took care of all of us. There were seven of us.
Q: When did you come over to the U.S.?
A: In 1969, my whole family came over – all my brothers and sisters, my mom, my dad. We had one in the oven and it was born here in America.
Q: What was that transition like?
A: Oh, it awesome. I have never left the U.S. since. Like, most of my friends and family members have all been to Italy 100 times since they came here but I am never going back. I just love America. I love my country, too, but once I left there, I didn’t want to go back.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I went to school in Italy. Not a lot. I got thrown out of both schools I was in. I was a bad boy when I was young. And then, when I came here, I went to school at Westerly Junior High for, like, two years, not even, because I had to go to work and help my mom pay the bills and stuff. So, when I was 17, I quit school. I went just long enough to learn a little English and learned how to write and read a little bit because I didn’t know anything at all when I came here. But I got lucky. As a matter of fact, the father of the owner of my company, I moved in with him and his father and he taught me a lot because they were born and raised here, my cousins. So, they taught me a lot of English there and then what I learned in school, that’s what I got by at.
Q: And tell me about your career path from the time you stopped education to today and what inspired you to do this type of work?
A: Well, when I started, I was a dishwasher at a restaurant well, about a year and a half to help my mom out. And then, I got a job working with my mom at a factory where we made guitars, Gill’s Musical was the name of the company. It is no longer there. And, from there, I worked at American Velvet, another factory. We made velvet and Moores… I worked at, like, 4 or 5 different factories. The first maybe 10-15 years. And then, I got into a limo service. I started driving limousines for a living. I went to work for a private company for about a year or two and then I got involved with the casino, Foxwoods. I got a job there as a limo driver and I worked there from 1998 to 2007 as a limo driver.
And I got really friendly with the tribal chairman who was the chief there that was in charge of everything and he started his own venture business and he wanted to bring me along. So, I did. I went to work for him. We were going to do a big energy drink company. And then, it didn’t work out so I left my job at Foxwoods to go with him. He did, too. After about six months of working with him, 6-7 months, the company went down and I moved to Atlantic City and went to work at the Borgata there as a limo driver for two years. Then, I moved to Vegas. I was going to start a business in Vegas with a friend of mine that lives out there, Billy Dalton, and that didn’t work out. He had a guy who was supposed to invest some money in us and he backed out so then, I ended up spending seven months there, just playing cards for a living, playing poker. I did pretty well for about four months and then I started doing bad; plus, my grandkids were calling me every day, “Noots, when are you coming home?” So anyway, I decided to come home.
When I came home, I was collecting unemployment and my boss’s father called me out of the blue and said, “My son needs some help.” Now, I knew his son very well and, as he said, “He needs some help. He is doing a job out in Binghamton, New York and he needs some labor help. They will pay you…” — I forgot how much buy as cash, so I am, like, “Yeah, all right. I will go.” I was collecting, I wasn’t working, so I went there. After the second day of working there, he caught me working, the owner of the company and he is, like, “What are you doing, Fred?” I am, like, “Why? Am I doing something wrong?” I was hauling trash out of a basement. It was all flooded. Everything there was flooded. All the bases were flooded right to the first floor, just like the hotel was here. And he is, like, “No, no. I didn’t bring you out here for that to work. I brought you out here – I need you to help me run these jobs because I can trust you, you know, we are family.” He is my second cousin, obviously. So, I said, “Okay. All right. I don’t know anything about the business.” I didn’t even know what Servpro was but I learned and I did it for a couple of months out there for him. And when I got back, he said, I did a really good job. If I wanted a job, he would hire me in a heartbeat. And I am, like, “Okay, I will give it a shot.” It seemed like interesting work. So, I did and within 3 or 4 months, he made me a project manager and ever since then, I have been taking care of all
these large losses and disaster areas for them as a project manager. And that’s it as far as work. And I plan on doing this until I retire.
Q: And was there any additional training or education that was required for your position?
A: Oh, yes. We get trained. We have to go to classes. We have to go to mold classes. We have to go to water classes. We have to go to drive book classes. We have to learn how to put… Because everything’s got to be put into a computer system. We use tablets on the field but then it goes into our computer system, so the corporate gets it, the insurance company gets it, so I had to learn all that. That wasn’t easy. That was the tough part for me. I like better hands-on work than I do, you know, technical stuff, but I learned it, you know? And here I am.
Q: So, in general, what role does Servpro play in the aftermath of the storm with significant flooding?
A: Well, we go out, you know, we try to do our best at cleaning everything up and fixing whatever problem. Our main goal is always to leave and make sure that there are no health issues after we leave – no mold, nothing infected, so we disinfect everything, we clean everything, and if sometimes we have to, we do it more than once. Once we leave, we just make sure we clean our area very well, that the customer is very happy, and we are gone. And usually, we do not do the reconstruction, we do not fix things after – we do but not always, especially when we are on the road. It is very hard for us. We don’t have a crew with us that does the reconstruction. But back home, we do a lot of the work ourselves. We finish the job completely. When we are on the road, if the customers don’t have contractors or anything like that, we usually provide them for them. We have connections all over the country with contractors that can come in and put something together for you if we tear it down.
Q: And so, how soon after events like Harvey is your company usually contracted to help clean out these properties?
A: Well, we usually get contacted right away as soon as the storm happens. Most of the time, even before it happens, when they see it coming, especially when it’s a hurricane, obviously everybody is tracking it, including us. We have an app that we track stuff like that to the weather and everything. And we get a call of potential work. Obviously, we almost never get a guaranteed job from anybody. So, I get a phone call in the middle of the night, in the morning, in the afternoon, whenever, from my boss… “Fred, get ready. We are going to Louisiana or we are going to Houston or we are going to Upstate New York.” I mean, I have been all over the country in the seven years that I’ve been with this company. And my truck and trailers are usually always ready. That is the first thing I will do when I get home now is get my stuff ready for the next event. So, that way, all
I’ve got to do is pack my clothes, put a few things in the truck and trailer and head on the road.
Q: What is the range of damage you have seen in general and also from Harvey in terms of, like, damaged properties?
A: I mean, here in downtown Houston, I didn’t see a lot. I got here about three days after it happened, maybe four or five days after it happened because I drove. Now, my boss, he flew, so he was here a little bit earlier than me. But I have seen a lot, like, starting from Belmont – that is where my adventures began because I got stuck out there, almost lost my truck and trailer there because I was under 4 feet of water. They had the highway closed, so I tried to get around the highway and I couldn’t. I had to turn around and go back to Louisiana and spend another night in Louisiana until finally I mapped out an area. So, I got to see a lot because I had to go north and then come back down southwest. So, I have seen a lot… Especially in Belmont, I have seen a lot of people… I mean, helicopters were pulling people out of the water.
But one of the things that really impressed me was just like how many people showed up there, like, you know, local people with trucks and boats behind them and they were all in the water getting people out, helping people out, getting them all out, and these are just regular, you know, people, not emergency services, and I almost had to be one of the ones pulled out of the water but I made it out of there. I am pretty resourceful, so I got out of there somehow. Then, when I got here, pretty much all I got to see was obviously the Lancaster. There was still a couple of feet of water in the basement and everything was destroyed down there. And you know, other areas I have seen. Most of the water was all underground in the tunnels, in the garages, it is just full of water. Just really, overall, my experience here has been, you know, like I’ve seen a lot of people, just a lot of people helping people here. It’s been amazing what I have seen. Very strong city. They stick together. That’s about it. I didn’t see a lot water damage, like I said, because I got here a little late. So, the water was already being pumped out of the buildings by the time I got here.
Q: And can you describe the process of cleaning out a building or a property that has undergone severe water and flood damage and about how long it takes to complete this process?
A: Well, depending on the size of the job, obviously. There are some jobs you can do in in a few days and then there are jobs that take weeks and months. The Lancaster itself, when I got here, it was completely… Well, when my boss got here, it was completely underwater, the basement, and there was water even on the first level, and we got here… And when I got here, he brought me in there to look at it and I assessed the job and I predicted it would take about a week to 10 days, and I think it took us 8 days to finish it.
So, the first thing I’ve got to do is obviously find laborers because we don’t bring that many laborers with us. It’s is usually only 3 or 4 out of my office that come with us. So, we use local labor companies to help out the community, too, because we hire locally. We call the local companies to send us workers. And I usually get the amount of workers that I need. And a plan of action together to get it done and I’ve got to figure out how many people I need for how many days and supplies that I need, and dumpsters and all that good stuff – equipment. I planned it all out ahead, of course. And then, we proceed with the work. In this particular job, I had about between 15 and 25 people every day for about 8 or 9 days there and we were just hauling stuff out of the basement in garbage bags and carts, the easiest way we could do it.
We pumped out a lot of water. It was really a mess, so we had to clean out a lot of stuff. We had to take out every wall in the basement. And then, we also had to do the first level demo, take out the floors. We take out anything, especially when it is water like this that comes from sewers and streets. We take out anything that the water touched, we have to take out. If it is metal or obviously something that we can’t take out, we clean it, we disinfect it. Everything else, we take out, and then the rest of it gets dried out by our equipment. We leave the equipment in usually between 4 and 5 days – all our dehumidifiers and air movers, too. We have meters to check obviously. When stuff is dry, then we pull the equipment out and usually the job is done.
Q: Can you describe what, if any, safety precautions you have to take during a cleanup?
A: Oh, yes. I always take safety precaution. They all have to wear their PPEs we call them, personal protective equipment – masks, gloves, boots, safety boots, suits, so they don’t get that stuff all over their bodies. We put them in tie bag suits. We watch them all the time and we always make sure they don’t get in any dangerous situation because some people, if you don’t watch them, they will be pulling stuff out of the ceiling without a hard hat or something. So, we make sure they are wearing their hard hats. You explain it to them. I always have a meeting in the morning and the first thing I discussed is safety and PPEs, tell them what they are supposed to be wearing and that they should wear them all the time. And I watch them. And if I find somebody not wearing something, I usually warn them a couple of times, you know? And then, if they continue to do it, I have to send them home, you know, because I get because that’s a liability for us. But they are pretty good. They like to be safe, so that is not an issue usually.
Q: And then, you have mentioned this before but what steps are taken to sanitize a building after the cleanup?
A: After the cleanup, well, what we do is we have certain chemicals that we use. I don’t want to really want to say what they are, but we have our own Servpro chemicals that we use to… We wipe everything down by hand. First, we spray it to give it the initial thing
and then after we wipe it down by hand, anything that’s been contaminated. We have rags, we have chemicals, we usually get the people with buckets, they put the chemical in the buckets. Most of it gets diluted a little bit with water. And they just use towels and just wipe everything down every inch of the place, you know. And like I said, what was affected. Not, like, for instance, at the Lancaster, there was only about a couple of feet affected on the first level, so we only wiped down about four feet. We always like to go over because things get cross contaminated because people touch things and stuff, so we clean a little more than what was touched by the water.
Q: And then, what sort of economic impact do these types of jobs have on the local economy when it comes to the cleanups?
A: Hard for me to say, but you know, I mean, it is one of those things where it hurts some people – obviously the people that are directly affected – but it helps out, like, we have hired people here since we have been here at all different jobs – we have had 300, 400 people that we have hired, local people that we have given work to. And we pay for lunch so we get all the food locally. I mean, you know, just think about 300 or 400 people working in one small area like this and our hotels are all right here in downtown Houston. We probably have between a few of us that are out here and maybe 50 hotel rooms that we have had for the last two months, almost 2½ months now. We all eat out around here, especially all the management, the supervisors. So, I am sure it has a good and bad effects. It is one of those things where, like I said, one person benefits from somebody else’s mishap, but overall, I would say we helped out a lot of people. I mean, we have given work to some people here that couldn’t even afford to sleep on the street where now, you know, they have made quite a bit of money working for us, you know?
Q: And then can you describe what you’ve observed from, I guess, the human emotional response to Harvey; whether it be, like, fellow employees or property owners or whoever, and how it has impacted your work or those you are helping?
A: Well, mostly out here, like I said, where I am working right here in downtown, it is with pretty strong people that handle it, like, it is what it is. Stuff happens. Most people are insured for all their stuff, so you don’t get a lot of feedback from customers when it is big like this, when it is big jobs and big buildings that are very well insured and FEMA helps a lot with these stuff. So, I haven’t gotten a lot of that. Now the people themselves that work for us have a lot of sad stories. A lot of people that have lost their homes or their parents lost their homes or somebody else. I cannot specifically say anybody but there have been quite a few guys that I have even helped out, like, personally. I am one of those guys that if I have to give $20 or $50 because they ain’t got gas to go home or something, I have always been that guy to give it to them. Most of the time, I don’t get paid back, you know… They say, “My first week’s paycheck, I will pay you, but most of the time, some of these guys don’t even last a week. And some have been here the whole
time since I’ve been here. But, overall, it has been a really good experience. I have met some really strong people and some really sad situations. What kills me is all the people I see on the street. It is just heartbreaking to me. But, I mean, it is all over the world. Nothing anybody can do. But other than that, like I said, Houston has been a pretty good experience for me. I mean, everybody seems to be upbeat and strong and want to help each other and I see that they are. I mean, just Tom Malone, like, he was there with us at that job almost every day and he was always asking if we needed anything. He gave us snacks. He gave us drinks to the guys. He treated us really, really well there. And I have had that experience at every job that I did out here, so, no complaints.
Q: And then, what are the most rewarding aspects of your job and then, what are some of the hardships?
A: Well, the rewarding is obviously when we finish a job and everything goes well, everything is dry, everything is perfect, and we get what is called a customer satisfaction sheet that we have the customer fill out. And, usually, they rate is 1 through 10, 10 being the best, and you get all 10’s and some good comments. That’s very satisfying. Obviously, everybody needs to eat. We are out here to make money, too. We work a lot of hours and we make a lot of extra money doing that. And then, some of the hardships are when you go and do houses. That is the thing I hate doing because when you go to homes, you run into a lot of people that some of them can’t… I don’t know if they can’t afford it or whatever, anyway, you get a lot of sad stories there. Some of them, obviously, are to get you to give them the lowest price that you can give them. Some of them are legit. And usually, I am a pretty good judge of that, you know, of character, so, I know who is playing me, I know who is not. So, I usually work with that and that is something my boss can’t know but I am a softie. So, if it is somebody that I really think they can’t afford, I try to help them out as best I can, the cheapest I can. And that is as far as I will go with that.
Q: And then, what is the most memorable experience you’ve had on the job?
A: Most memorable? Do you mean this, in particular, or any job since I’ve been doing this?
Q: It can be from this job or from all time.
A: Well, we did a school in upstate New York. I don’t remember the name of the school but it was near Rochester somewhere, and we did a school… It was huge. It was a big school. And we had to clean everything. It was 90% cleaning and about 10% of demo stuff. There was very little demo to be done because everything was hard floors and cement walls and stuff. So, we had to do a lot of cleaning there and we had to do it fast to get the school open on time. So, we had to use a lot of people, and I was personally involved, like, I was the project manager on that job so I had to make it happen. We had, I think, like, 13 days to do it and it was probably 115,000 square feet of area between the
first and the second level that we had to clean out and disinfect. I mean, you are dealing with children, so we had to do a great job. And so, I had a lot of people. I probably had over 100 people in that building cleaning. And we got it done a day early and everybody was ecstatic at how well it came out. Obviously, they tested it before they let the kids go in. Everything came back perfect. So, that was very satisfying because I was worried about it the whole time because of the time frame. A lot of times, they don’t give you a deadline. A lot of times, you just go in, you say, “Okay, well, this is what we’ve got to do. We really don’t know how long it’s going to take, and some jobs take longer than others. You run into things you are not expecting. But this here, was something we couldn’t find anything unexpected we had to take care of, so we did. That was very satisfying and rewarding for me.
Q: And then, is there anything we haven’t discussed that you would like us to include?
A: Not really.
Q: Well, that concludes our interview.
A: All right, great.
Q: Thank you so much.
A: No problem. I hope I helped you guys.
Q: You did.
A: It was a pleasure meeting you, Debbie. You have a great husband.
Q: Thank you.
A: It was nice meeting you. Good luck with your new career. And now, we are going to the zoo.
Q: Enjoy it.
[End of Recording]