Behind the biohazard suit: A look into cleanup after tragedies

Behind the biohazard suit: A look into cleanup after tragedies

Posted: September 17, 2016 - 9:54pm  |  Updated: September 18, 2016 - 12:54am

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.

Sensitive services

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.

Suiting up

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.

Care, compassion

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.”

Posted on September 21, 2016 .

Lubbock Police Department's Crisis Team

Posted: Jul 12, 2016 10:24 PM EDT

LUBBOCK, Texas -  Police officers wake up each morning not knowing what they will face. 

"You're going to see a lot of bad things, things you can't un-see, things you're going to think about at night and it will reappear in dreams. You've got to have somebody and outlet that you can talk to about those things and not everybody understands what the officers are going through and how to deal with those issues," Lubbock Police Sgt. Lowell Owens.

The Lubbock Police Department's Critical Incidents Management Team has been around for 16 years. 

Andy Young, the coordinator of the Critical Incidents Management Team at LPD, went through the training in 2000. "I think we had a number of officers go through the training before July 13, 2001, when we had one officer killed in the line of duty," he said.

Owens said he was "actually on the department during those times and it was a very difficult time. We had two officers, several years ago, that were killed within a week a part of each other and during those times it was just the beginning stages of the existing crisis team that we have now and I believe that was the time we realized we really needed something in place and available for these guys."

The Crisis Team opens the door for discussion.  "It's a camaraderie that you can sit down and visit with people that have been through what you've been through," Owens said.

The team assists anytime they are needed. They are there "for the officers on patrol, for everything from a domestic disturbances to where they need counseling, to accidents with injuries, deceased persons, the team is available to come out and help them at anytime there's an issue or somebody needs someone to talk to," Owens said.

There are currently 40 officers on the Crisis Team, "who are able to assist other officers one on one as the needs arise and then a large scale incident like what happened in Dallas happens we have a lot of people that we can call on from other agencies to come up here and help us and we are available to go to other places and help them," Young said.

 "To have somebody else that can relate to you and listen to you and understand at the same level of what you do is vitally important to their well-being for their mental stability and officers see some bad things in their career and that's just the way it is that's the nature of the job we do but knowing there is a a place you can go and people you can talk to is a big help to them," Owens said.

The LPD Crisis Team assisted in Odessa after the death of three officers in 2007. 

"I reached out to Dallas police department to see if there was anything we could do," Young said.

"The whole week after the incident impacts people and the incident kind of carries on even after the immediate threat is over and the funerals are a part of that to it's not until a couple days after the funeral that everyone will kinda let down and take a breathe and that's the best time to give people a chance to process what they have been through," Young said.

"You've gotta give it some time and have to let us grieve like anybody else, after a period of time then it's time to come together and talk about what you're going through," Owens said.

Young said a crisis team will probably start speaking with Dallas Police officers at least two days after the last funeral. 

Posted on September 14, 2016 .

Researchers studying how longer shifts affect LPD officers

Posted: Jun 09, 2016 9:39 PM EDT

Earlier this year, Lubbock Police Department's patrol division lengthened its shift hours to address manpower issues. It switched from eight-hour to 12-hour shifts.

"By going to the 12-hour shift, we can spread out more officers throughout the city and more officers on duty at one time," LPD Lt. Ray Mendoza said.

"If I was on duty, I would love it," City Councilman and former LPD officer Floyd Price said. 

Council voted Thursday to allow two doctoral investigators to research how these longer hours affect officer performance through February 2019. Texas Tech University professor Megan Thoen and Lubbock Christian University professor Andy Young said their research is not to tell LPD what's right or wrong, it is to protect the well-being of those on the force.

"They're working long shifts, they're having a long change at work, anything like that can affect a person's home life, it can affect their job performance so it seems wise to try and see how a change affects a person at their job," Young said. "It seems always wise when there's a systemic change in a police officer's life or anybody's life, you want to take a look at how that will affect that person and affect the department as a whole. We're going to try and do this for a number of years to try and measure the impact as people adjust to a new schedule."

"They're the ones that actually have to perform the duties," Price said. "Studies are excellent to sort of get the catch on things where you would likely be one way or the other. You do the study and you get the input from the people who the study is going to affect and take the data."

How they will study the officers, they cannot exactly say. However, they can tell us the work will be under strict scrutiny.

"We have to be careful about answering that question too, because we don't want to affect the study before we do it," Young said. "There's a review board at Tech that makes sure this is study is done right, everybody involved is protected and no undo coercion is done."

Young is no stranger to working with Lubbock police. he has been with the department since 2000. He is the negotiator for the SWAT team, coordinator for the victim services crisis team and the coordinator for the critical incident stress management team. He even wrote a book about his experiences with LPD.

"Nobody really knows and can appreciate what goes on at 3 a.m. behind the yellow tape so I wanted to write some of those stories down so people can have a better understanding of what this work is like," Young said.

Young said his co-investigator, Thoen, is also well-versed with police work and its culture.

"Law enforcement is an important work and to assist officers who are trying to do their work has been gratifying to me," Young said.

Posted on September 12, 2016 .

My First Blog


This is my first attempt at posting a blog and wanted to see how it looks.  As everyone is well aware, our society is struggling with law enforcement and its place in our society.  More specifically, our society is struggling with authority.  This struggle is compounded by the examples of authority behaving selfishly or poorly that are being highlighted right now.  But these examples of authority behaving selfishly or poorly cannot distract us from the real issue at hand, which is, what place does authority have in our society and how do those under that authority submit to it, especially when caught doing something wrong?

The real test here is when those in society are confronted by authority when they are not doing something wrong.  If I am pulled over when I wasn't speeding, if I am asked to make accommodations during an investigation (e.g. being put in handcuffs while officers investigate something), and even if I am arrested for doing nothing wrong . . . these are the things that test me.  Can I be patient and allow the system to work things out, even while awaiting arraignment and a judge's decision about my circumstances and innocence?  It takes humility and patience in order to submit to imperfect authority, and these are qualities that need to be fostered in all of us.

What do you think?

Posted on August 20, 2016 .

Video: Mental Health Symposium

This presentation was given at the Collin County Mental Health Symposium on November 19th, 2015, and was for law enforcement, mental health professionals, and healthcare providers who try to assist the mentally ill. 

See: for details about the conference.

Viewer Discretion Advised: This clip contains strong language from a recording of an actual police negotiation.

Posted on December 3, 2015 .

Fight Or Flight by Dr. Andy Young

Victim Services

Victim Assistance

Crisis Counseling

Crisis Intervention

Crisis Intervention Training

Mental Health Police Officer

Hostage Negotiation

Crisis Negotiation

Psychological First Aid

Emergency Mental Health

Posted on December 1, 2015 .