Fire destroys Valley Billiards in New Alexandria
For 56 years, six days a week, Burley Hartin made pool tables.
He built them from scratch from fine woods and Pennsylvania slate using antique equipment. His work graced homes and pool halls across the country.
All that he had worked for was gone in minutes Friday morning as a fast-moving fire gutted a building along Route 119 in Salem Township that housed Valley Billiards since 1988.
But Hartin didn't lose everything dear to him in the fire.
His son, Scott Hartin, 42, who is hearing impaired, was in the building when the fire started but didn't notice it until Ram, his black Labrador retriever, began to act strangely and paw at him.
“That's his buddy,” Burley Hartin said of the 11⁄2-year-old dog who greeted customers at the business. “He won't leave his side.”
Prodded by the persistent dog, Scott Hartin checked the back room and saw flames at the electrical box. Burley Hartin believes the dog saved his son's life — “without a doubt.”
Forbes Road Volunteer Fire Chief Bob Rosatti said there was little firefighters could do to save the wood-frame structure, which was full of lumber and other materials used to build pool tables and furniture.
A quarter of the building on the west side was on fire when the first crews arrived to the 8:46 a.m. call. The wind, blowing from the west, spread the flames quickly through the rest of the building.
“Wood-frame buildings — they're built to burn,” Rosatti said. “We're up against it to begin with.”
Nine fire companies were called to the two-alarm blaze. A lot of their effort was aimed at saving an adjacent building, which houses Cuccia Chiropractic and Moyer Insurance. The siding melted from the intense heat, but the interior was not damaged, Rosatti said.
Hartin started building billiards tables in Pitcairn in 1956. The company moved to the New Alexandria area in 1983 and settled into the current building in 1988.
“It brings tears to my eyes ... to see 56 years down the drain is terrible,” he said.
“It's been his life,” said Hartin's fiancee, Joan Kotz. “It's hard to see your life in ashes.”
Hartin believes rainwater that had infiltrated the building earlier in the week may have shorted out the electrical system, causing the fire. A state police fire marshal was called in to investigate.
Hartin estimates the loss at $200,000, and he's not sure if he has enough insurance to cover it.
“I don't know if I can (rebuild),” he said. “My son might be able to, but he's going to have to have a hell of a lot of help to do it.”
Three of Hartin's four employees are hearing-impaired. His parents were hearing-impaired, and he knows sign language, so Hartin made it a point to hire employees with hearing loss.
“They're darn good employees,” he said.
And they are now without jobs.
Hartin also was thinking of his customers.
In addition to losing an inventory of 10 new pool tables and five used ones, five pool tables being built were destroyed. Hartin asked that customers who were waiting for their pool table to call him at 412-480-3887.
Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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