What comes to mind when you think of a clean-up crew? Probably a construction worker team that clears roadways from rubble, toxins, and other dangerous stuff. You might think, sadly, of the crews who worked the 9-1-1 Twin Towers tragedy, firefighters, cops, volunteers, what have you. All of these ideas, ranging from the ordinary to the sadly extraordinary are correct. There is however, a clean-up crew very few people know (or think) about. These are critical clean-up crews who work sites where there have been seriously nasty incidents: murders, suicides, accidents, anything else that features those who are no longer (and usually recently) among us. Have you ever thought about who cleans up a house after there has been a murder? Massive blood stains, pieces of bone and brain, cannot be pleasant reminders to the victim’s family. There are victim survivors who actually clean this stuff themselves. Ugh. No one usually thinks to call a clean-up crew for them and, in their state of shock, do not have the wherewithal to think of it. Poor buggers.
Crime scene clean-up crews are an interesting lot. It’s not a bad job to consider: they are never out of work and if you can stomach guts maggots, you’ll have a uniquely interesting career path. The pay is serious: crime-scene cleaners charge up to $600 an hour for their service, and most people would pay a lot more. Employees of crime scene cleanup companies can make good money in the range of $40,000 to $50,000 a year and higher in urban areas. Read on and discover what special knowledge these cleaners need to have and who in the world (or hell) would do this job.
Crime-scene clean-up is a niche market within the cleaning industry. It’s called CTS Decon — crime and trauma scene decontamination — and it involves cleaning up dangerous material. This could mean the biologically contaminated scene of a violent death (homicide, suicide or accidental) or the chemically contaminated scene of a methamphetamine lab or anthrax-exposure site. Crime-scene cleaners come in and restore the scene to its pre-incident state. When a violent death occurs in someone’s home, the family doesn’t move out of the house. The cleaners’ job is to remove any sign of what happened and any biohazards that result from such an incident. Federal regulations deem all bodily fluids to be biohazards, so any blood or tissue at a crime scene is considered a potential source of infection. You need special knowledge to safely handle biohazardous material and to know what to look for at the scene; for instance, if there’s a thumbnail-size bloodstain on the carpet, there’s a good chance that there’s a 2-foot-diameter bloodstain on the floorboards underneath it. You can’t just clean the carpet and call it a day. You also need permits to transport and dispose of biohazardous waste. Companies that clean up crime scenes have all of the necessary permits, training and, perhaps most important, willingness to handle material that would send most of us running out the door to throw up in the bushes. The hands in the picture are infected with arsenic poisoning.
Crime scene cleanup crews perform messy, often-times stomach-turning work. Work occurs in a variety of locations, often inside homes and other buildings. The clean-up of drug-related materials and chemicals along with blood and human remains requires specialized safety equipment and clothing. Workers wear goggles, gloves and Hazmat suits as they handle potentially dangerous items. Commonly used supplies include strong chemicals such as industrial-strength deodorizers and disinfectants.
A lot of CTS workers come from medical fields that prepare them for the gore:
- they may have been EMTs
- emergency room nurses.
- a construction background is helpful because some clean-ups (especially meth labs) require walls and built-in structures to be removed.
Certification courses required in some areas teach employees about hazardous materials, safety precautions and applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. Regardless of background, any crime-scene cleaner needs at least three qualities:
- a strong stomach
- ability to emotionally detach from work
- a sympathetic nature
Why sympathetic? Because cleaning up a crime scene has one very big difference from cleaning up after, say, a hazardous spill at a chemical plant: Grieving family members. People who loved the deceased are often at the scene while the cleaners are scrubbing blood off the walls (ick). They might be sobbing and looking for support from the only non-grieving people still there — the clean-up crew. Crime-scene cleaners are in the awkward position of having to be stoic in the face of stomach-churning physical remains and yet sensitive in the face of a family’s tragedy. Not everyone can do both.
Most crime scene cleanup crew careers exist in larger, urban areas. Cities with high crime and drug problems use clean up crews regularly. Opportunities exist in smaller communities, though jobs may be too sparse to support full-time work. Those looking to enter the crime scene cleanup profession must weigh the pros and cons of living in smaller cities versus urban locations, including the work available and the living expenses associated with different areas.
The crime scene cleanup business involves networking with a variety of professionals in related careers including law enforcement and funeral homes. Those with previous experience in these areas, and consequent contacts, find the most work opportunities. Providing thorough, skilled cleanup and dependability help to spread the word quickly about such businesses as well. Successful crime scene cleanup businesses work regularly to develop and maintain relationships with their contacts.
One of the most important safety aspects of crime scene cleaning is wearing the proper attire.”You want to make sure no fluids come in or out for you…” a worker states. They always start with the cleaning solution so the chemical can do its job. Then they begin with whatever tool is available. It generally takes 1 to 3 hours to clean a scene. In addition to cleaning crime scenes, some clean-up crews also handle decomposition, meth labs, and hoarding cases. During the summer months, houses and rooms are scorching, yet the clean-up crew has to be suited from head to toe, along with a face mask. No breathing in chemicals or infectious bacteria. No bathing in body fluids or chemicals.
For hoarding cases where toxins aren’t airborne, the crew usually wears lighter face masks without goggles. They are lined with a thin layer of charcoal that are suitable for working in extreme heat. The trade-off however is that these masks do not block odour (ewww). In one case, a man known only as Walter died alone in a tiny apartment of HIV and full-blown AIDS. He had no family or friends to claim him or to contact police. Walter simply died alone. 3 hours into cleaning, the crew know a lot about Walter, yet so far they have no idea where he died. When a mattress is found with Walter’s body fluids, a crew member explains, “if we didn’t know what that stain was, a scavenger company would come and pick this up with their bare hands. This is where you get cross-contamination, possible transmission of infectious diseases from a body into your home, your children and so on.” The mattress above (not Walter’s) is a combination of blood and feces from bed bugs in a hoarder’s house.
This brings to mind a hysterical blog I read yesterday in cracked.com (do you remember when Cracked used to be a paper magazine with mostly comic strips? Wow I am older than I realized and now you realize it too). This slightly deranged article was entitled 7 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Outbreak Would Fail (Quickly). The author, David Dietle, blogs, in America you have the Center for Disease Control (CDC,) who tend not to fuck around. Seriously, it’s on their business cards. (click on pic) He proves his partially delusional point with grounded (pun) evidence: Remember the SARS outbreak? That originated in China. The CDC and the World Health Organization put the clamps down on international travel the second it was found to have spread to North America. Flights were grounded, travel between borders was locked tight and only 43 people on the entire continent died.
Indeed I am inclined to agree the CDC doesn’t tend to fuck around. Neither do crime scene clean-up crews. I wonder if they also have We Tend Not to Fuck Around on their business cards too? Or perhaps Our Professionalism Will Knock You Dead…oops…maybe not. Perhaps We Clean Up Your Bloody Freakin’ Mess…mmmmm no. When you write your resume, don’t forget to mention your awesome bug collection when you were 12. That should kill the job interview (in a good way, of course).