Bio-Hazard/Trauma Cleaning: On the Job with Dan Bowen

A lack of proper training and certification, Bowen says, is one of the biggest problems with the field as it is today

June 17, 2013

Thinking of getting into
trauma cleaning? Here are
three pointers:
  • “Get the proper training,” Bowen says. “That’s the first thing I ever tell anybody.”
  • Be Ready: Make a commitment to get to the scene as soon as possible after you get the call.
  • Be Considerate: Following a job, make sure there’s no evidence of what happened, but be careful to preserve memories, as not to erase someone from existing.
Like so many others today that are involved in bio-hazard, trauma and crime scene cleaning, there’s a personal tragedy that ignited Dan Bowen’s interest and involvement in the field.
Bowen’s early beginnings started some 35 years ago after his father-in-law committed suicide. “I found the body and I cleaned up the mess,” he says. “There was nobody in the world that did that work (back then).”
Following the incident, he began a career as a police officer, where he said he had to tell many people the same thing he was told when he discovered his father-in-law’s body – “There is nobody that does that, you’ll have to clean it up yourself.”
Times have since changed, but that didn’t stop Bowen from beginning his own biohazard management business in 2006 - Bowdecon LLC (Brighton, MI) – after putting in 25 years as a police officer. Today, he and his team of about a dozen perform the likes of bio-hazard, trauma and crime scene cleaning, to decomposition cleaning to hoarding cleanup all over the state and in certain parts of the Midwest. 
“The last suicide I did as a police officer tipped me into doing this kind of work,” says Bowen. “The guy shot himself in his parent’s house. His parents were gone, they were due back the next day. I couldn’t let them walk in and see that, their son. I called all over the state to try to find someone to come in and clean it – there was nobody in Michigan at the time that did it.”

Getting Started

After putting in his time as a police officer, Bowen was ready for another career. Trauma cleaning was something that he knew he could do and, perhaps more importantly, it was a service where there was a need. What’s more is that he had emotional investment in being able to help families in providing such a service.
“There’s a passion involved,” he says. “There has to be. Cleaning up (the mess) afterward, that was more traumatic for me than finding the body. It’s important to the families to know that someone is there taking care of it.”
He was trained and certified by Amdecon and returned home to start his new business. While Bowen himself is located in Brighton, which is about an hour outside of Detroit, other members of his team live all over Michigan and the Midwest, allowing someone to be on scene and start the cleanup usually within an hour after receiving the call.
“I run across people who have decided that they can do this work,” Bowen says. “They have no clue what they’re doing – that scares me.”
A lack of proper training and certification, Bowen says, is one of the biggest problems with the field as it is today. And as he notes, bio-hazard cleaning isn’t for everyone and isn’t as easy or as glamorous as it’s made out to be in pop culture, such as in the 2008 “dramedy” Sunshine Cleaning. 
“Right now, Michigan doesn’t have any (biohazard) laws,” Bowen says. “Anybody with a mop and bucket can say they do crime scene cleaning and go do it right now.”
A mop and bucket? Yeah, that doesn’t quite cut it on the job. There are bio-suits, respirators, gloves, boots, HEPA vacs, ozone generators and more that are required to actually get the job done well. 

Finding Reward in a Traumatic Field

It should go without saying that trauma cleaning isn’t for everyone. But at the same time, someone has to do it. And as more people are properly trained and certified, that “someone” that has to do it is trending from family members – such as it was in Bowen’s personal experience – to professionals. And while you wouldn’t think that the field would provide its professionals with feel-good moments, that is where Bowen says the reward is.
“In this work, I know how fragile the people are,” he says. “And I know that when I leave, they’re a little bit better. You see people at the worst possible time in their life. It’s always nice to know they can walk in there and not be terrorized anymore.”
He says that contrary to what some might believe, hoarding jobs are more physically exhausting, traumatic and emotionally draining than a suicide job. Why? Aside from being more physically demanding in many cases, Bowen said the biggest factor is the realization that a home could end up back the same way down the road.
But he’s even managed to find the silver lining in a hoarding job from time to time.
“I went to check in on a client after a hoarding job and he was sitting in his living room chair for the first time in 20 years,” Bowen recalls. “I would give anything to have a picture of that. He was sitting there, he was smiling, he was happy. That’s the best feeling I’ve ever had at a hoarding job completion.”   

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