Posted: September 17, 2016 - 9:54pm | Updated: September 18, 2016 - 12:54am
By LUCINDA HOLT, A-J MEDIA
Behind the respirators and biohazard suits are the men and women who provide comfort, cleanliness and peace of mind to those dealing with the loss of a loved one.
For Dr. Andy Young, coordinator for the Lubbock Police Department’s Victim Service Crisis Team, he’s seen firsthand that these cleanup services often are critical in the aftermath of an at-home death.
In responding to victims of crisis situations, Young said he assists people coping with the traumatic loss of a loved one.
In homes still tainted with blood, bodily fluids, odors and other painful reminders of a loved one’s death, it requires more than counseling, and many face the decision of how to move forward.
“I think it’s difficult for the people in the midst of that situation to have a really good sense of what the right decision is,” said Young, who is also a professor of behavioral sciences and psychology at Lubbock Christian University.
Wanting to experience what victims walk in on after first responders leave the scene, he described an incident where a person had passed away in a home.
Recalling the site where the person died on a bed, he said he noticed a wave of relief wash over the family member’s face when he offered to dispose of the sheets and mattress.
Young said incidents like this are emotional and shocking for people to initially process, and biohazard cleanup is the furthest thing from their mind.
But as Lubbock’s population climbs, crew members for biohazard cleanup companies who described their jobs to A-J Media over the summer said there’s a growing need for the service.
“Any situation in which you know that it’s something you can’t handle and it’s a health risk, we can take care of it,” said Stephanie Henderson with Carpet Tech.
Two biohazard cleaning companies, nationally and locally, shared information on the services they provide.
Bio-Tech biohazard technician Matt Brooker stood next to a specialized vehicle filled with the supplies he needs to carry out each task, big or small.
Professional cleaning and restoration company Carpet Tech of Lubbock has offered Bio-Tech, a biohazard restorative service, for about six years, covering Lubbock and working out to a 50-mile radius on the South Plains.
As the company’s sole biohazard technician, Brooker had completed nine jobs since January when he spoke to A-J Media this summer. Most of their jobs, he said, involve suicide and unattended deaths. In 2015, he completed 30, with about 10 percent being at crime scenes.
“You run into a whole spectrum of emotions when you get there,” Brooker said about responding to scenes.
While the company is equipped for any task, prices vary per job, with the most expensive at $10,000. Brooker said they rarely see homicide-related scenes. Lubbock saw an average of just under a dozen homicides per year from 2010 to 2015, according to A-J Media archives.
Henderson, who has been with Carpet Tech for nine years, said the demand for service has increased as the city continues to grow. In July 2015, Lubbock County’s population reached 299,453, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
A report from the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office shows there were 50 suicides in 2015. Since January 2016, documents released in the middle of the year show there have been more than 15.
With a growing need for the specialized service, Henderson said, Carpet Tech is looking at adding more biohazard technicians as a backup for Brooker.
Each technician undergoes a blood pathogen certification and training at a specialty school.
Brooker attended a weeklong school in Indianapolis for classroom and hands-on training, where he followed protocol in a mock bedroom crime scene.
To simulate bodily fluids, he said, the instructors had technicians practice with cow blood. Brooker said starting out in the carpet and water restoration industry is beneficial when undergoing training for these special services.
He said the biohazard recovery industry is self-monitoring to ensure it remains ethical. Continuous training, he said, is a necessity with development of technology, tools and concepts.
Texas a busy state
For nationally based Aftermath, the certifications and training are similar, except the company has its own school for its technicians.
Bryan Reifsteck, senior director of operations, worked as a field technician for 10 years.
Headquartered in Illinois, the company’s Fort Worth dispatch center helps service the area from Amarillo to Midland.
Like Bio-Tech, Reifsteck said the majority of Aftermath’s calls are unattended deaths and suicides, and Texas, as the second largest by population in the country, is one of the company’s busiest states.
Three-person crews are dispatched to each scene, and the company has about 45 to 50 crews throughout the nation, with the Lubbock area visited several times a month on average.
“It’s very demanding,” Reifsteck said. “It’s not like general cleaning contractors.”
He said a crew remains on standby 24 hours a day with five hours being the lengthiest time of arrival.
Aftermath and Bio-Tech, do not have automated phone systems — callers will always have the opportunity to speak with someone about their situation.
Like Aftermath, Bio-Tech technician Brooker is also on 24-hour standby.
Manager Henderson said Brooker enjoys helping people in their time of need.
“This is very sensitive work,” Henderson said, “and it is work that you have to be able to handle particular situations very well. And Matt (Brooker), in particular, is very good at that.”
The company offers assessments at no extra cost, while Aftermath provides no-obligation assessments.
Tina Bao, senior vice president of marketing and strategy for Aftermath, said the sensitivity of each task is why their company places a great emphasis on customer privacy.
Brooker also addressed the issue of privacy as he said he has placed garbage bags over the windows to block out potential spectators.
In the midst of a traumatic situation, Dr. Young said, it may be difficult for people to decide to enlist the help of a cleaning crew.
He lets people know about area services, and lets them know there may be a fee. Some people may be able to handle the cleaning themselves, and others may break down halfway through, he said.
What makes the situation difficult, he said, is that many people want to remember their loved ones as they were.
Booker said a person who knows the involved family usually makes the call because it can be emotional on family members.
The pros suit up for multiple reasons.
Wearing a respirator, Brooker demonstrated the suit that helps keep him safe while maintaining the integrity of the scene. He said although bodies are never at the scene by the time his crews get there, decomposition odor attaches to other surfaces very quickly.
Gloves are taped around the wrists for safety and cleanliness, and no suit is used twice. Both companies switch out suits frequently to help protect the technicians and the scene.
Blood creates a dangerous situation, as it may carry a risk for disease.
Both service providers warned of the dangers of spot cleaning. If blood or bodily fluids are on a carpeted surface, Reifsteck said more than likely there is pooling underneath the surface.
Additional blood spatter, he said, may also be an issue if a suicide was carried out by a shotgun.
A thorough cleaning is required, he said, in order to eliminate all odors and hazardous material.
Brooker said blood can also seep into the concrete, so carpet removal is a necessity to remove the risk of disease transmission.
If a mattress is contaminated, the soiled spot is cut out, and all removed waste is then collected by a medical waste company.
He said under state and federal regulations, all biohazardous material has to be dealt with in a specific way, and specialized containers similar to the ones found in hospitals are used.
Aftermath’s Bao said the company carries its own line of custom disinfectants to assure optimal cleanliness, and a HEPA air filtration machine is brought out to the site.
Do you have to call biohazard cleanup after a traumatic event? Brooker said the answer is no, but highly recommended.
If the government were to place biohazard regulations on individuals, he said, people would be unable to blow their nose and dispose of the tissue. Regulations do come into effect, he said, when a technician takes on the task.
Aftermath offers a 28-point checklist to help families choose the right service for them. The website list details qualifications they say technicians should have before taking on the task.
For Bio-Tech, Henderson said customers are treated with the utmost care and dignity in order to help them in their time of need.
“Care and compassion comes first,” said Henderson. “Second, we’re gonna get you taken care of and get your house the way it needs to be so that you can continue on your journey that you’re dealing with right now.”