We are reminded too often in this business that blood and body fluids can find their way into unexpected, hard to reach places. The bathroom is no exception. We got the call that someone passed away on the floor in the narrow space between the toilet and bathtub of a 1-bedroom apartment. Estimated time of decomposition: 3 weeks. (A 3-week decomp in a confined space with no windows creates a less than pleasant odor, btw)
We started this job like any other; working our way into the contaminated area from the door of the room toward the greatest concentration of fluids. After making our way to the bathtub, we discovered that fluids had fortunately not found entry into the space between the tub and the floor. Our job is often greatly impacted by the timing of updates to a home. Fresh caulking and grout can prevent fluids from getting into cracks or under flooring; which is why for this particular job, we didn’t have to pull the tub. We weren’t so lucky with the toilet.
The caulking around the toilet had rotted away and we could see that fluids were able to get into the space between the toilet and the vinyl flooring. Vinyl flooring now has to be pulled. But because there’s no seal between the base of the toilet and the subflooring, the contamination is likely to make it’s way under the toilet as well. Time to pull the toilet. Then more bad news; a busted drain ring and widespread contamination in the base of the toilet, throughout the broken drain ring and into the mouth of the drain.
Jobs like these remind us that contamination isn’t just what’s visible. The depth and detail of the job are often revealed to us as we work through it. This is why it is critical that crime scene cleaning be done meticulously; considering every possibility.
The call came in that someone had passed away in their kitchen, but hadn’t been found until weeks later. “Unattended death” is what we call it. The neighbors had begun to notice the odor that always accompanies the decomposition of blood, tissue and body fluids. The woman who called was a relative and tried to describe the scene. She explained that there was some blood on the kitchen floor and “some flies”. Years of biohazard cleanup service has taught us that people rarely describe the scene accurately. In previous jobs we’ve been told there was just a few spots of blood only to arrive and find a blood bath. Other times people have described what sounds like a triple homicide yet we find only small traces. After arriving at the scene, it was clear that the description we were given was no exception.
As we walked up to the house we began to notice a humming sound growing louder the closer we got. We thought maybe an appliance had been left on or something. Looking into the kitchen the source of the humming became clear; hundreds and hundreds of flies. In our history of crime scene cleaning, this was by far the biggest swarm of flies we had encountered. They were bouncing off the windows, walls, cabinets and appliances. Humming mystery had been solved; it was as if we had walked into a bee hive. And under the swarm laid the reason the hive was raging. Had we not been told the circumstances on the phone, we would have guessed that more than one person had passed away in that kitchen. We were not prepared for the amount of blood and body fluids we encountered that day. It had gone under the cabinetry, behind the appliances and had seeped into the the cracks of the vinyl flooring.
After removing the blood, body fluids and insects, we had to pull all the vinyl flooring, baseboards and cabinet toe boards. Located in the area of heaviest contamination was the stove. We had to clean, decontaminate and carefully remove it from the room. Start to finish the entire job took approximately eight hours; a long day in the world of crime scene cleaning.
It was late afternoon when the call came in that a man had committed suicide just outside a small town about an hour away. The client wanted the job done that night so we gathered our gear and headed out.
An ominous feeling came over both of us as we turned onto the poorly lit street and rolled down the window to look for the address. The air was stagnant; as if the movement of our truck was the first thing to disturb it since the shot rang out. Our eyes seemed to gravitate toward one house in particular that didn’t have cars in the driveway or a porch light on; we knew were at the right place. It was set far back on the lot away from the street. Looking down the dark driveway that ran up the side of the house, we saw just one light flickering from a room by the back door that the client had left open. That eerie feeling we had as we pulled up was about to get worse.
After suiting up, we slowly pushed open the door and discovered that the flickering light we had seen from the road was a old TV that had been left on with no cable signal; just white noisy fuzz on the screen. Here we are in the middle of nowhere, Texas where a man has just taken his life and we’re walking into the set of the movie Poltergeist. All that was missing was Carol Anne saying, “They’re here!” But she didn’t have to because we were both thinking it. The flickering light was just bright enough to see the gun that was lying on the floor by the closet. Was this the gun that was used? Not likely, but it certainly didn’t do anything to ease the tension in the room. Time to find the room where it happened, get it done and get out of here!
We found a light switch in the hallway and made our way toward the dining room. It wasn’t long before we came across a trail of blood spots that led us right where we needed to be. Self-inflicted gunshots are often the hardest to deal with because of how far and spread out the scene can be. In this case, however, most of the contaminated area was contained to one room. But this one room was absolutely covered with blood and tissue. Much of the blood was dried, but there was also blood that was running along the baseboards indicating that we might have contamination on the sub-flooring as well. There were also blood spots and bone fragments on some of the furniture and walls. This definately wasn’t going to be the quick job we had hoped it would be.
We worked away into the evening all the while feeling a bit on edge. Suicide is a common call for us but tonight something was different. Perhaps it was because it was at night on a quiet street far away from our comfort zone. Or maybe it was because the house was dark and cold with nothing but an old tv on. Or maybe, just maybe, the man who took his life in that house hasn’t left yet.
“No one will set foot anywhere near that unit.” That’s the first thing the manager told us regarding the apartment of a recently evicted tenant. Not only did her janitorial staff refuse to complete their duties in the unit after the tenant left, the occupants of the neighboring apartment moved out! What would be bad enough to motivate a neighbor to pack up their entire life just to get away? As we made our way up the sidewalk toward the unit to take a look, we were quickly greeted with the answer; the foul stench of pet urine and feces. The odor came not from one, two or three, but from over twenty cats in a two-bedroom apartment. Today’s job: removal of carpet, carpet strips, padding and odor in the apartment of a cat hoarder.
While the smell that accompanies death can linger a bit, animal urine has incredible staying power. Animals mark their territory with urine, so it is by design that the smell stick around to ward off intruders. The poignant pungence of over twenty cats continually spraying the walls of a confined apartment over time is beyond explanation. And the brutality of stink in this unit wasn’t constrained to urine only. Cat feces was scattered throughout the house, particularly in the closets; which likely served the cats as pseudo-litter boxes. Worse still, many of the cat droppings had been smashed into the carpet after having been either walked on or compressed from the tenants belongings. Though we weren’t dealing with blood, body fluids or tissue in this case, we still had to take full precautions to protect ourselves. Animal urine and feces can carry or attract bacteria, viruses, insects, rodents and disease.
As with every call we take, the longer the scene has been in a hazardous condition the more difficult our job will be. It was quite obvious that the safety of this unit had been compromised for many months. The urine and feces soiled carpet and padding was, for a lack of a better term, fused to the concrete below it. We had to take a large metal scrapper to get underneath and pull it up. Afterward, we carefully rolled up the carpet, taped it off and hauled it out. Next, we removed each and every tack strip in the unit. Tack strips present one of the greatest dangers in any scene we do as they can puncture the skin and deliver bacteria and pathogens into the blood stream. After having removed all the soiled items and tack strips, we disinfected the walls and floors of the unit; making it safe for the janitorial staff to finish their duties.
As we stood outside the unit peeling off our protective suits that were now soaked with sweat, we thought to ourselves the one question that lingers in our heads throughout any hoarding job we do, “How could anyone live like this?”
Last week I got a call to an Apartment in San Antonio that there was a suicide. I rushed over to the scene to see what needed to be done. I usually go to a scene to bid by myself. After I check in with the apartment manager, they give you the key and then I am on my own. Every time is different but the feeling is always the same. The adrenaline you feel as you walk or drive over is very intense. You never know what you are walking into and you are alone in an apartment that has just seen tragedy. There is a dark feeling especially after a suicide. As I entered the front door I was immediately confronted with a blood and tissue soaked couch. A single gunshot wound to the head is obvisous. The TV is still on and a fan blowing. As I continue in the room I observe lots of things. An overwhelming feeling of grief for this person comes over me. I see a picture of the deceased and their loved ones. I see lots of movies and things that I love too. This person had so many of my same interests. I see open on the floor a calendar saying starting medical school. As I move forward through the apartment I see a lot of medical equipment that the EMT’s tried very hard to save their life and were not successful. And for a split second I say to myself, “why”? I know this was a very young person just by the surroundings and it just bothers me. I say a little prayer for the deceased and for their loved ones. Then I begin the process of cleaning up. I am there so that the family or no one else will have to see this sadness. It is gruesome, so I better get started!
I came across this article at CNN.com and it does a great job explaining why some people shouldn’t be in the crime scene cleaning business and why you need tough skin to be a crime scene cleaner. Not only to deal with the sights but the family of the deceased. I had a family stand outside an apartment in San Antonio and wanted to see what I was putting in the incineration boxes. They actually wanted to sift through the box of bio-hazard waste to make sure we didn’t toss anything. It just is incredible the way families can act when their loved one passes. People stand outside of terrible crime scenes and fight over who gets what about things that really don’t matter, like lamps. We always take our time to bag important items for the family. There is an emotional switch you have to turn on and off especially when this happens. I often think of the victims and their families during and after the clean-up. But at the end of the day it is nice to know that I helped start their healing process. That is why I continue to clean up crime scenes and that is why I feel it is rewarding.
A crime scene can include any of the following: homicide / murder, assault, suicide or unattended death. These tragic events almost always leave blood, body fluids, feces and/or human decomposition. Because the blood, body fluids, feces and decomposition found at a crime scene can carry infections diseases, only a crime scene cleaning company that uses OSHA-compliant technicians should be used to clean and decontaminate a crime scene. ECS has been properly trained and certified to safely clean, decontaminate and remove items from a crime scene that have been soiled with body fluids, blood, urine, feces or gross filth. If you or someone you know is faced with the aftermath of a suicide, assault, homicide / murder or unattended death, don’t hesitate to call ECS. We are experts in the field of crime scene cleaning and handle every contingency with professionalism, compassion and confidentiality.
Please note: Using typical janitorial services for a crime scene or bio-hazard not only endangers the safety of those persons, but it also creates a costly liability for your business. All of our technicians have been properly trained and certified to handle your crime scene cleaning needs in a safe and legal manner. The United States Dept. of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can issue fines ranging from $7,000 to $70,000 for violations of the Code of Federal Regulations, 29CFR1910.1030.
Thanks to the success of a recent TV series, a spotlight has been put on this complicated affliction, and people are beginning to recognize the dangers associated with excessive hoarding. In severe cases, hoarders create an environment that is no longer safe to live in.
Severe hoarding usually involves the excessive accumulation of furniture, personal items and trash which build up over time until there is literally no living space left in the home, making it difficult to walk through or quickly exit in an emergency such as a fire. Pet urine / feces, expired or rotten food, disease carrying rodents, rodent remains, rodent feces, insects, mold and bacteria are all commonly found in the home of a hoarder or a gross filth property. The presence of these increases the chances of exposure to E. Coli, Staph Viruses such as MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), bacteria and other serious health risks. Only a trained OSHA-certified professional should be used in these circumstances. In addition to expert crime scene cleaning in the event of a homicide / murder, suicide, or unattended death, ECS has extensive experience in dealing with hoarding and gross filth. We offer a comprehensive decontamination process for hoarding and gross filth properties.
Our highly-trained team of OSHA-compliant technicians are always on call, ready to help you with any crime scene, accident, decontamination or gross filth cleaning needs you may require. ECS technicians will promptly handle every contingency with professionalism, compassion and confidentiality.
We are a specialized cleaning company that helps families recover from the aftermath of tragedies such a suicide, homicide or unattended death. In addition to crime scene cleaning, ECS also provides decontamination and cleaning services for the following: hoarding and gross filth; blood and body fluids; pet urine and feces; human and animal decomposition; and crime scene chemicals. With our professional and highly-trained OSHA-compliant staff, you can rest assured that ECS technicians are ready to safely handle any contingency, no matter the size or severity. All of our technicians have completed a crime and trauma scene decontamination specialist course with these certifications.
- Crime and Trauma Scene Decontamination
- Blood-Borne Pathogens
- Respiratory Protection
- Airborne Pathogens
- IICRC Certified Odor Control
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Training
- Hazard Communication (HAZCOM)
- Awareness-level Permit Confined Spaces
- OSHA-specified training regarding biohazard compliance for Federal, State, and Local agencies.
ECS prides itself in providing professional development in the multi-housing industry. We are an active member of the San Antonio Apartment Association , as well as a volunteer for many local projects and organizations. Some of these include SAPD’s Blue Santa, 100 club, bicycle rodeo and the battered women’s shelter. We believe in giving back to our community.