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Arson fire heavily damages Vandergrift service station

posted Oct 26, 2012, 4:16 AM by Joseph Gray


By Liz Hayes

Published: Sunday, September 23, 2012, 12:10 p.m.
Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 

VANDERGRIFT — A family accustomed to responding to emergencies experienced one of their own early Sunday when suspected arson gutted their service station.

Joyce Kochka said she and her husband, Paul, received a call about 1:45 a.m. that their business, Kochka’s Towing and Car Care Service, was on fire.

They arrived to see flames shooting from the building at Farragut and Sherman avenues, across from the Vandergrift Bridge. The Kochkas also operate a Citgo gas station at the site.

“It was blazing,” said Joyce Kochka, 69.

The state police fire marshal from the Greensburg barracks, Trooper Seth Helman, said in a press release Monday that the fire at Kochka’s was arson. The release provided no information on how the fire was set, but estimated the damage at $600,000.

The Kochkas said officials told them the fire appeared to have been set in one of the four garage bays. Joyce Kochka said money was stolen as well.

Randy Dunmire, assistant chief at Vandergrift No. 1 Volunteer Fire Department, said about 75 firefighters from 10 companies responded; many were on the scene until 7:30 a.m. One firefighter suffered a minor injury that was treated by medics on-site.

Dunmire said the fire spread from a central garage bay into the ceiling and through a 4-foot void to the shingled roof, which had been added onto the structure’s original flat roof. Because the gas pumps were shut off and not near the building, Dunmire said they didn’t present a challenge to firefighters.

‘They took his heart’

Paul Kochka, 75, started the business about 50 years ago.

“They took his heart. That’s what he said,” Darlene Kochka said of her father-in-law.

Although son Greg Kochka, 51, has taken over day-to-day oversight of the business, Joyce said she manages the books and Paul is there daily despite suffering a stroke a year ago.

“That’s what he likes to do,” she said. “He won’t retire. This is his baby.”

Distraught by the apparently intentional destruction, the Kochkas said they were heartened by the response of the community.

A few dozen employees, friends, neighbors, business associates and family members converged on the service station Sunday morning. They began removing debris, hauling out inventory that could be salvaged, pulling tarpaulins over the gaping roof to prevent rain damage and offering comfort.

“All of Greg’s friends are here,” said Darlene Kochka, Greg’s wife. “The employees are here, too.”

Kochka’s employs 10 people, between the towing service, the garage and the gas station.

“They’re all out of work right now,” said Tammy Eckman, Joyce and Paul Kochka’s daughter. “They’ve been here all night. Friends are really kicking in.”

Eckman said the original building is constructed of concrete block and remained intact. Joyce Kochka’s second-floor office, added in 1992, was heavily damaged.

Greg Kochka — recently back to work after he was seriously injured in a January car accident while on a service call in Maryland — braved the flames to save one of the business’ 10 tow trucks. Another towing rig was destroyed.

The Kochkas said no customer vehicles were damaged; none was inside the garage.

Darlene Kochka said firefighters managed to keep the flames from spreading to a neighboring rental house on Farragut Avenue that she and her husband own. The building is so close to the service station that the rain gutters touch.

The Kochkas said they will rebuild.

“They’ve already started.” Joyce Kochka said.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or

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