Trauma Cleaning: Without Standards, The Pain Can Keep Coming

November 4, 2009
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As an instructor in crime and trauma-scene recovery and a board member of the American Bio-Recovery Association, I am often approached by attorneys, the public and insurance adjusters to evaluate the service they or their clients received from other crime-scene cleanup companies.

For the most part, these are just routine questions from people who want to make sure that the service they received was within the normal parameters of good practice. But a few times each month I receive calls that just cause my stomach to knot up and my blood to boil.

With the bio-recovery industry in its 14th year, it is mind-boggling to find individuals who still decide that they are going to start-up a new company and declare themselves “experts” in crime and trauma scene cleanup without any research or training.

It is even more outrageous to find that, although they know almost nothing about the science, chemistry, biology or laws of our industry, they are charging fees that are often four or five times the industry average.

The majority of those operating in the industry today are honest, ethical professionals. It’s the few bad apples in the bio-recovery barrel, so to speak, that amplify the problems tainting our industry.

Example 1: The Hit-and-Run Guys

A husband argues with his wife in their kitchen. As she prepares supper, he grabs a shotgun and, standing in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, blows his head off.

It is still daylight when the police arrive. In order to see better, they open the brain-splattered dining room drapes. Splatter is on the dining room and kitchen walls, but since the body fell onto the vinyl tile floor of the kitchen, the largest amount of blood pooled there.

The family asks the police about scene cleanup, and is directed to a local company. The company tells the family that payment will have to be made in cash prior to starting the job, and that the family will not be allowed inside of the house while the cleaning process takes place.

The family agrees and stays with relatives until they get the call that the job is complete and they can return. The company is long gone, and upon cursory inspection, the rooms look contaminant-free.

It is now night and, in an effort to keep neighbors from seeing into the dining room, the wife pulls the drapes closed. To the horror of the family, the drapes had apparently never been checked and still have blood and brain matter clinging to the material.

The kitchen floor appears to be clean but, when the wife walks across the floor, bright red blood spurts up between the tiles, making little puddles and polka-dotting her shoes.

If this isn’t enough to re-traumatize the family, the wife goes to remove the now-cold pot of chili from the stove and promptly throws up when she sees a 3-inch piece of her husband’s skull nestled neatly atop the pot.

The family contacted the attorney general for their state, who then called me to review the family’s statements prior to a decision on prosecution.

Example 2: The Little-Extra-on-the-Side Guys

A man who lived alone died in his bed of natural causes, but wasn’t found for several weeks. When the authorities were finally called, the decomposition could be smelled from the street.

When a crime-scene-cleanup company was called in, the man’s relatives were told that the odor had permeated everything in the house with disease. Their recommendation was that everything in the house should be removed and destroyed.

The family, already nauseated from the smell, relied on the “professional opinion” of the technicians and agreed to let them remove everything from the good silver and china to the appliances.

In short, every piece of furniture, appliance, electronic component and fixture was removed because they were declared “not salvageable.”

The relatives were then presented with a bill for approximately $40,000! If this wasn’t obscene enough, a few weeks later the family found many of the home’s contents that were supposedly “not salvageable” being sold at a local flea market.

Example 3: The Cutting-Down-on-Overhead Guys

It is standard practice for crime and trauma-scene cleanup companies to dispose of human-blood-contaminated items that can’t be salvaged. They do this by red-bagging and boxing these items and sending them to a medical waste processing facility. This includes dismantling recliners, mattresses, and other large items to fit in these containers.

In this case, a company responded to a gunshot suicide in an apartment. The victim had sat in his favorite recliner and put a pistol in his mouth. The subsequent wound bled profusely until there was no more blood for the heart to pump. This resulted in the complete saturation of the recliner.

In an apparent effort to save on labor and disposal fees, the crew decided that they would dispose of the recliner by wrapping it in plastic, putting it in the back of their truck and then dumping it in the woods of a neighboring county.

All seemed to go well until a few days later, when hunters found the chair and called police. Thinking that they had stumbled upon evidence of a homicide, the police launched a full-scale investigation that lasted for weeks and logged many detective hours before they were actually able to review the crime scene photos of every police department in the surrounding counties.

When the mystery was finally attributed to this particular crime-scene-cleanup company, not only were they slapped with fines for littering, they were saddled with reimbursing the cost of the investigation. Every law enforcement agency that heard about this dropped the company like a hot potato, and the subsequent media attention tarnished the reputation of crime-scene-cleanup companies everywhere.

I would like to emphasize the fact that these complaints are not clients disappointed with a poorly painted wall or an out-of-true vanity top. These are abuses by unscrupulous companies that are subjecting their clients to financial greed, improper disinfection, and re-traumatizing that no one should have to endure.

Could training and certification eliminate these types of abuse? Perhaps a good portion of them, but in the end, it is the honesty and character of the companies themselves that should be monitored. I believe the way to do that is to pursue standards, as well as meeting with our state legislators to create specific regulations for our industry.

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