Unlike kids who played with blocks while dreaming of building real structures someday, Gerald Eglentowicz spent his childhood watching buildings fall—and he loved it.
“I kind of grew up on a demolition site as a kid,” Eglentowicz, owner of Eglentowicz Wrecking in Kearny, N.J., says.
Eglentowicz’s father worked around the country as an industrial dismantling specialist, but when the elder Eglentowicz’s wife insisted he spend more time at home, he settled in as director of demolition for Jersey City, N.J. He held the job 30 years.
“Jersey City was one of the only municipalities in the country that performed its own demolition,” Eglentowicz says. “I worked in demolition when my father did side jobs, even if it was just taking copper out of the pile; I’ve always had a fascination for it.”
His father got him a job at Mazzocchi Wrecking as a laborer, and during the around-the-clock cleanup after 9/11, Eglentowicz checked in workers and equipment at the site. After a few months on the site, he ended up as a college-aged supervisor in charge of 20 Mazzocchi employees on the World Trade Center site’s night shift.
After 9/11, Mazzocchi, which had not previously worked in New York City, asked Eglentowicz to stay on and tasked him with building a division in the city.
“Over 10 years I had worked my way from laborer up to foreman to supervisor to project manager to estimator,” he says.
“I was a young kid, 20 or 22 years old now with a nice new truck and a nice little salary,” Eglentowicz says. “I started bidding jobs in NYC on a public level, and we started doing small houses through the Five Boroughs of New York City. I was able to build it up over the 10 years or so to doing $20 million worth of work.”
As the operations manager in NYC, Eglentowicz was responsible for all Mazzocchi activities in the city. One of his early assignments was running the $25-million, five-year Con Edison Waterside Demolition project, a feat so impressive it was featured on the History Channel’s “Modern Marvels.”
“I took down their power plant next to the United Nations, on the FDR Drive; five city blocks with smokestacks 500 feet in the air,” Eglentowicz says.
The Con Ed job was the first time The Big Apple ever saw high-reach demolition equipment. “I was able to introduce the New York Department of Buildings to the high-reach, or long-reach demolition [excavator],” he says. “No one had ever used that before because of code restrictions, so I was able to present it to the commissioner and get them somewhat comfortable. We also ended up using it on a bunch of emergency jobs, major building collapses in Manhattan, and later used it at Yankee Stadium.”
After working for Mazzocchi and a couple of its successor companies, and hiring out as a consultant on various jobs, Eglentowicz decided to incorporate. “I worked for others, but I had that taste that if I could build this thing for Mazzocchi in New York and bring in $10 to 20 million worth of work here, why can’t I just do it myself? That was my long-term plan.
“My specialty is code compliance and high-rise and urban demolition in complex environments, like taking down a 30-story building in the middle of Manhattan with the MTA subway running underneath it. That’s the stuff I like; the more complicated the job and the more regulatory requirements, the better,” Eglentowicz says.
His first equipment investment was a Hitachi 200 excavator. “That was very nerve-wracking, signing on to a five-year commitment for a machine,” he says. “I had started off renting some smaller machines, but then it was ‘Either you’re going to do this, or you’re not.’”
Eglentowicz worked mainly in Jersey City for a time, but also traveled to take down an Owens Corning asphalt plant, remove a mile-long underground asphalt pipe, and demolish a DuPont facility in Delaware.
Along the way it was time to invest in another, larger excavator, a Hitachi 290. “I said to my wife, with the 200, that’s kind of making ends meet, but it’s not stockpiling money in the bank, so maybe if we have a second machine, we can make some extra money,” he says.
Investing in a second machine enabled Eglentowicz to be more competitive in bidding jobs and helped him get bigger jobs. “I grew up on Hitachi’s my whole life, “ he says. “Nick Mazzocchi had all Hitachi’s. I like the orange color—the orange brigade, I call it. It’s my brand.”
Eglentowicz continued ramping up his fleet with a Hitachi 470, an Indeco 13,000-pound hammer, and a Genesis GDR 400. “The GDR 400 is a beast,” Eglentowicz says. “It was able to chew right through 30x30-inch columns.” He’s also purchased a bucket crusher for his 290. “It’s like the cheap man’s crusher, but it works pretty well for my applications,” he says. “You can demolish a 10,000-square-foot building and you can crush material and leave it on site. It takes a little time, but it’s more cost-effective than spending $700,000 on a crusher. It was from Italy, and it’s only 70 or 80 grand.
“In the U.S., I think we’re really behind the curve when it comes to attachments and technology,” Eglentowicz says. “In the northeast, it’s old school, everybody wrecks with a grapple. You go down south and they use a bucket with a thumb. If you look at what they’re doing in Europe, it’s an attachment-driven world with what they’re doing with the baskets and the different types of pulverizers, I don’t see grapples being used much. I always try to buy the best of what’s out there. I don’t buy anything used because I want to know how it’s been treated. I take care of my stuff.”
Eglentowicz does his homework when it comes to adding to and managing his fleet of four excavators, a loader, skid steer, 1,100-gallon water trailer, 18 attachments, and five pickups. He uses a master spreadsheet to track maintenance, most of which is done in-house. So far, he uses telematics for the maintenance reminders.
“I get alerts with the telematics on the 290 and 470,” Eglentowicz says. “I’m not 100 percent keen on it [telematics] yet, but it’s definitely something for the future. It helps to get an alert that something’s going on with the machine.”
After subbing out recent high-reach work, he is looking to add his own high-reach unit. “My problem now is I’m always 10 to 15 feet short,” he says. “I’d like the ability company-wise to be able to handle more than a five- to six-story building with no problem. I’m looking eventually to custom order a high-reach boom, some sort of 65-foot high reach that’s maybe interchangeable with a regular boom. Two machines in one.
“It’s about safety, experience, and having the right equipment to do the job,” Eglentowicz continues. “As soon as my machines come off the job, they get painted; we take great care of everything. That’s what my old boss Nick Mazzocchi did with the equipment and it was like playing for the Yankees. With the shirts and the logos on banners at job sites, and taking pride in the equipment, your clients see that you’re taking pride in your company.”
When Eglentowicz finishes a job, a fence goes up, along with a sign saying “Another fine job done.”
“It’s a sense of reward, a sense of accomplishment,” he says. “And there are a lot of jobs, you don’t even know who’s doing the job. Some people are hiding from regulatory agencies. Me, I encourage them to come by our job. We don’t have many issues with the agencies because we’re doing the right things.”
Safety, and doing the job right, are two of many things Eglentowicz learned from his father, who passed away in 2009, the year Eglentowicz incorporated. “My father, I keep him with me every day,” he says. “That’s my driving force in the business. The safety factor is No. 1 for me, and the compliance. We’re in a loud, noisy, dusty, chaos-filled business. It’s called controlled chaos.
“My father told me years ago, ‘Son, this is not a science—it’s an art.’ The building is going to want to go down the way the building wants to go. It’s just a matter of how you’re going to react to it when you’re taking it down,” Eglentowicz says. “In the thousands of estimates I’ve done, no two buildings are the same. Whether it’s plaster or Sheetrock, none of them come down the same. There are thousands of variables.
“I like the complex job because it separates the men from the boys,” he says. “Another thing my father told me, he said, ‘Son, anybody now with a backhoe thinks they’re a demo guy.’ So I encourage that. Let the guy do it for half the price and have the building fall out in the street, and they’ll end up calling me after that.
“There’s not much I haven’t done, other than a nuclear plant,” Eglentowicz says. “Big buildings don’t scare me. It’s my passion.”