Somebody?s Gotta Do It

Somebody’s Gotta Do ItCrime scenes, meth labs and other hazardous sites are no match for the cleanup experts of Advanced Bio-Treatment By Daniel Mutter

Death, as we all know, is inevitable. However, depending on the specific circumstances and location, an individual’s death can create a potentially hazardous situation for that person’s survivors, or for future residents of that person’s home. After the bodies are removed, it is the responsibility of the property owner to clean up the mess left behind.

Crime and accident scenes resulting in death can leave behind bloodborne pathogens and molds that are unsafe for people who come into contact with the area, even months or years later. So when such incidents occur, they require more than your local maid service. Since 2003, Advanced Bio-Treatment, based in Destin, has provided crime-scene and biohazard cleanup services across the United States.

“I was reading a magazine and saw an article about a company out of Chicago that did this and realized it really fit my skill set,” says Jerry Turner, president and founder of Advanced Bio-Treatment. “Having been a police officer, I knew about dealing with evidence and forensics, and having been in the insurance industry was helpful, since most insurance policies pay for what we do.” Turner worked as a police officer for six years and ran his own insurance company for three before starting Advanced Bio-Treatment.

He began the business much like many others in the industry — by attending classes on the proper cleanup of biohazardous waste.

“When I first got started, I did a lot of research just on cleaning up bloodborne pathogens,” Turner says. “Believe it or not, at that time, there just wasn’t that much out there. I went to two different crime-scene cleaning companies who actually put on classes.” In 2003, such cleaning companies were few and far between, but some of them offered classes for those interested in the field.

As Advanced Bio-Treatment grew, it eventually expanded to 26 states throughout the country. Turner began placing managers at central locations from Florida to Wisconsin so that they would be available to respond to any situation in their region.

“When I hired my managers, I wasn’t really set up with a classroom area to teach them,” he says. “So I went to a couple of different companies that had professional training facilities and sat through the classes myself to make sure I liked what they were teaching before I sent them.”

In each state, Turner rents storage facilities where the various cleaning chemicals and supplies are stored. Each manager has several part-time employees under him or her who is trained to properly assist in cleanups.

Despite the gruesome nature of the business, there has been no shortage of workers. Turner admits, however, that it takes a special person to deal with the unique challenges of the business.

“Life and death are just a part of the whole thing, you know,” he says. “So it doesn’t affect me really, emotionally, and that’s true for about 25 percent of the people out there.”

Most of the scenes that Advanced Bio-Treatment works on require those few people who aren’t bothered by such experiences.

“I can remember a case in North Florida where a victim took his own life with a high-powered rifle,” says Howard Carroll, the company’s Southeast regional manager. “After the first shot was unsuccessful, the fellow apparently walked around for two hours trying to figure out what to do before he shot himself for the final time. The tech had to check every room in the house for contamination.”

Safety is the manager’s ultimate goal when taking employees on cleanups. Before each job, the manager walks the scene to look for any potential falling hazards or unsafe zones. He or she is then able to come back to the crew with a plan of action, keeping in mind all potential dangers.

Besides obvious cautionary dangers, there are thousands of invisible hazards that cover job scenes. Hepatitis, staph infection and E. coli can contaminate a home. Bodily fluids also can lead to unsafe molds and fungi, often resulting in odors that can linger for years if not properly treated.

To keep workers safe during cleanups, they are required to wear specialized suits and face masks. However, “the problem is that people can get lazy in their protocols,” Turner says. “So that’s really the manager’s job, to watch what everyone is doing and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Put your face shield back on.’ That’s their job, managing the safety of the environment.”

Advanced Bio-Treatment goes beyond normal protocol when it comes to safety.

“We have a code of safe practices that was modeled after some of the largest employers in the world,” Turner says. The company also provides an employee handbook covering everything from voice-mail and e-mail rules to sexual harassment. “We take what we do very very seriously, so we do things that other companies don’t do in order to stay as safe as possible.”

Fingerprint dust and tear gas residue left behind by law enforcement tend to be other unexpected nuisances requiring the assistance of professionals for cleanup.

“We had a double homicide in Florida once where the whole condo had to be cleaned due to the fingerprint dust,” says Carroll, the company’s Southeast regional manager. Without professional cleanup crews that are experienced in proper removal, such chemical residues can remain for many years to come.

Suicides and homicides are only a fraction of the cases that Advanced Bio-Treatment covers. It also does cleanups involving meth labs, staph infections, auto accidents and unattended deaths. Often, odors and dangerous chemicals are left behind at such scenes.

“We are probably one of the premier odor companies,” Turner says. “People from other companies will call me, and I can walk them through it. Even though I’m not there to smell it, I know what questions to ask, and based on the type of loss, I can help them evaluate and solve the problem.”

Advanced Bio-Treatment workers employ a number of specialized chemicals to remove odors and contaminants from job sites.

“In one room you have around 400 different types of surfaces with different molecular makeups, different pore sizes,” Turner says. “Even the paint on the wall — even if it’s all flat paint — there are different brands with different molecular makeups and different pore sizes. So different things will work on different surfaces. You have to understand that.”

Even though Advanced Bio-Treatment is known as a cleanup company, most of its work actually focuses on deconstruction.

“The reality of it is, certain things just can’t be removed,” Turner says. Sections of wall, floor and ceiling often must be taken out in order to rid the area of future mold or odor. Any waste removed from the house also must be removed properly, so as not create a hazardous situation for neighboring properties.

When Advanced Bio-Treatment got its start in 2003, it was one of the few companies providing crime-scene and hazardous-waste cleanup. Nowadays, movies such as “Sunshine Cleaning” and “Cleaner” have led to the establishment of similar businesses all over the country. Many of these close in the first year, however, due to lack of work, funding and experience.

“You cannot go into it with $3,000 and a one-week class,” Turner says. “These smaller companies may have a $250,000 liability policy, but if you don’t do a job properly and somebody gets sick with hepatitis, for example, that’s completely worthless because you are facing a half-million-dollar claim.”

Despite having many new competitors, Advanced Bio-Treatment continues to do crime-scene and hazardous-waste cleanup work across the country. The company’s focus on safety allows it to provide thorough service for all of its clients.

“We feel like ABT has to be the most safety-oriented and the most cautious,” Turner says. “At the end of the day, we just feel really good about being able to go in and help people.”