The words "crime scene cleanup" usually conjure mental images of how this action is depicted in hit TV shows like CSI or Law and Order.
However, according to Aftermath Services, this is a huge mistake.
"The most common misconception is when people think 'CSI.' We're not solving crimes; we are cleaning up and recovering areas where crimes happen."
And they should know what they are talking about, since they are one of the largest companies in the US involved in this kind of work.
In fact, most crime scene cleanup — correctly termed biohazard remediation — is actually for accidental deaths or suicides rather than crime. So, what really happens after the police, paramedics, crime scene investigators and coroner's representatives have finished and left the scene?
Removing the evidence of a violent death is the responsibility of the victim's family or the property owner affected. Even until the early 2000s, there very few cleanup companies that could handle that kind of job; the family members were expected to do it themselves.
This was an almost unimaginable task for those people who were still in a shocked and grieving state. It was because of one such situation in 1996, which was handled by two friends of a bereaved neighbor, that the idea of creating a company to handle the aftermath was born—hence the name Aftermath Services.
The company confirms that "crime scenes are not the bulk of our work, it is mostly suicide or unattended death where significant damage to the area has occurred."
But whatever the reason, cleaning up after a traumatic death is frequently a horrific task. It requires specialist knowledge and a significant amount of training. The job can be hazardous, grueling, and is definitely not for the squeamish or fainthearted.
Crime scene cleanup technicians don't work regular office hours. They're on call for 12-hour shifts several nights a week, and one or two weekends a month. The work is sometimes sporadic, particularly in winter months, so regular hours aren't efficient or cost effective to support local law enforcement agencies. They must always be available when called.
The work entails cleaning up all traces of the incident, even down to ripping up carpets and disposing of bedding, furniture. or anything else that investigators have not taken. Appropriate protective gear is worn to prevent exposure to fluid-borne pathogens – such as HIV. Special chemicals must be used since ordinary household cleaners can't completely sanitize affected areas or remove stubborn particles easily.
A frequently encountered cleanup situation is when criminals dealing in drugs containing methamphetamine are caught. There are always potentially toxic chemicals left at the crime scene in need of proper disposal, and the local laws vary on how it can be disposed safely. Crime scene cleaners require particular training on how to handle various chemicals, proper disposal methods, and accounting for inventory. All substances at a crime scene are treated initially as potentially hazardous because they could have been mislabeled to deceive the authorities. Many crime scene cleaners today have stopped working on meth labs because of the liability and danger involved.
The most dangerous situation for a crime scene cleanup expert is a potential bio-terrorism site. It's necessary to wear heavy protective gear, such as a Hazmat suit, double-filter respirators, and chemical-spill boots. All procedures must be followed meticulously in order to prevent the risk of infecting others by being careless.
Regardless of the type of crime scene, the final step in a cleanup is disposing of the affected materials. Hazardous or bio-hazardous waste cannot simply be put in a regular trash dump, so transport and disposal are a big part of a cleanup bill. Crime scene cleaners need a special permit to transport the waste, and they have to pay special fees to dispose of it or work with a qualified medical waste transportation provider who can trace the "chain of custody" for compliance verification.
But this is just mechanics; what about the human aspect and the effect on those called upon to carry out some unthinkable tasks?
Aftermath Services, after 17 years of cleaning suicide and crime scenes agrees, saying, "The hardest part of the job is not the gross factor, it is the emotional aspect seeing devastating situations every day."
[Please note that the images in this article are for visual enhancement only and are not Aftermath Services' employees]