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Grand Forks cleaners work in heat every day

Melinda Jerome wipes the sweat from her face while opperating a machine at C & R Cleaners & Laundry on Tuesday afternoon. Many of the machines run well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (Sarah Kolberg/Grand Forks Herald)

GRAND FORKS - Summer heat was in full force across the region Tuesday, with the mercury reaching 88 degrees by 4 p.m. Tuesday in Grand Forks. But for some workers, it's hot all day, every day.

About three dozen workers inside C & R Cleaners in Grand Forks on a daily basis work over flat irons and presses that reach 330 degrees, washers that clean at 360 degrees and a 400-pound dryer that can reach 900 degrees. The walls are lined with ceiling fans that offer about 20 degrees of comfort -- when they work.

"We buy lots of fans and burn out lots of fans," owner Don Larsen said. "We spend about $1,200 a year on fans. On occasion, (an employee leaves) because of the heat."

Larsen said up until now, summer has been "pretty civilized."

"There's no way to cool a plant that's been heating all day long," Larsen said. "Our dress code is pretty casual; we allow shorts and T-shirts. Employees take breaks every hour. We watch for heat exhaustion. We have large overhead doors that we keep open to keep air circulating."

Larsen said the air conditioning industry is experimenting with a concept called spot cooling, which uses perforated vinyl tubing for ducts, but he said it wouldn't be cost efficient in the dry cleaning business.

"People who work here just accept the fact that it's hot rather than fight it," Larsen said.

The same could be said for bakers and pizza makers. On average, their kitchens will hover around 95 degrees while their ovens burn at 450 degrees and higher.

Shawn Clapp, manager of The Toasted Frog in downtown Grand Forks, said the restaurant tries to keep its wood burning oven between 520 and 560 degrees.

"Right now, it reads 652 degrees," Clapp said. "Winter, spring, summer or fall, our cooks are working in the heat."

Deb Crimes works next to a deep fryer with oil that needs to be 370 degrees in order to cook properly. Tuesday, her portable Road Runner fry bread and taco stand was parked in the lot of Bob's Oil at the corner of Gateway Drive and Mill Road. But the heat didn't seem to bother the former nurse, who's been running the stand for two years.

It's not too bad with the windows open. This summer hasn't been that bad," Crimes said.