Westmont Magazine Business as Usual?
At a time when most Americans wanted desperately to do something to help, Dave Kuykendall ’90 got a phone call. The owner of a ServiceMaster franchise in Frederick, Md., he was one of 50-60 businesses asked to help clean up offices in the Pentagon damaged by fire, smoke, and water in the September 11 terrorist attack. Eventually, ServiceMaster franchises in the eastern United States sent more than 200 workers to Washington, D.C.
“What an honor it was to be able to serve and do something tangible,” Dave relates.
His business focuses on cleaning up after disasters such as fires and floods, but the only thing ordinary about the work at the Pentagon was the actual cleaning. Everything else was surreal.
“Because we were local, we were the first workers on the scene the morning of September 12, and we were eager and ready to get started,” Dave recalls. “But the security process was intense, and we sat around for hours waiting for escorts to take us into the building.”
Escorts were limited to five people each and had to stay with them at all times. Since only Pentagon employees or others with valid military IDs were able to serve as escorts, Dave and his workers had to wait their turn.
“There’s no way to describe how frustrating it was to sit for hours when all we wanted to do was work,” Dave notes. “In some ways it was demoralizing, and we had to make an effort to stay motivated.” Eventually, Dave and his people got Pentagon ID badges and no longer needed escorts to do their work.
“Because I got there first, it fell to me to line up crews, distribute maps, show people where to go and act as a liaison with Pentagon staff,” Dave explains. “We had to determine which areas were most important and needed to be cleaned first.”
“The people at the Pentagon were wonderful,” he adds. “They were extremely appreciative of our work and very kind.”
Dave was impressed by how hard all the crews worked. “We kicked into high gear and did one heck of a job,” he states proudly. “There were no petty squabbles. Owners of multimillion-dollar businesses were cleaning side-by-side with their employees. We all had an overwhelming sense that we were contributing in a significant way. We were working for the country, not just ourselves.”
According to Dave, being at the Pentagon was an emotional experience. “We wanted to show our patriotism and enthusiasm for our country, but we also wanted to keep it low key because we were working with people at the Pentagon who had lost friends and colleagues.”
Each morning at 6:30 a.m., when the crews gathered at Dave’s office for the trip to the Pentagon, Dave played patriotic music. His wife, Sherry, made red, white and blue ribbons for the workers to wear.
“It was apparent to all of us that we were involved in something big. Some of our workers got to meet President Bush, and we had the pleasure of seeing top generals and working with them. It was awe-inspiring.”
In all, Dave and his crew spent three weeks at the Pentagon, turning down all other business during that time. For the most part, the other customers were patient and understanding, even when they had experienced their own small disasters that required immediate clean-up. Clearly, the Pentagon had priority.
None of Dave’s people worked at the site of the plane crash and explosion, which was heavily guarded by armed soldiers. The FBI was in charge there and treated the area as a highly restricted crime scene.
Dave had to drive around the Pentagon like everyone else to get a good look at the gash in its side. “From the outside, part of the Pentagon looks like a war zone, but much of it seems OK and appears to be untouched.”
But smoke and water had damaged offices left intact after the crash. It took weeks of around-the-clock work by more than 200 people to clean up the largest office building in the world.
“We’re used to messes, and, thankfully, we didn’t see anything at the Pentagon that was really awful. Unlike the rescuers and workers in New York, we didn’t encounter any horrific sights.”
Dave grew up in Service-Master as his father served for many years as an officer in the company and a group president. After graduating from Westmont in 1990, Dave went to work for a ServiceMaster business in Alexandria, Va. He then sold franchises in the Midwest and Northeast for the national company before buying one himself in Frederick. In just six years he has increased sales from $250,000 per year to $1.2 million.
Dave and Sherry are raising six children, who range in age from 10 years to 17 months. With the family and the business, they’ve had little time for reflection on the recent events. “We just went back to work.”