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Wichita cleaning firms sanitize grisly scenes

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Oct. 28, 2013, at 7:25 p.m.

The companies that clean your house after a water leak or fire offer another, little-advertised, service: cleaning up after a murder, suicide or gruesome accident.

Such work is called trauma cleanup, and it’s a small but lucrative niche in the disaster-cleanup business.

It’s not pleasant, say local company owners, but it’s a needed service for stunned families and horrified property owners.

When the workers are finished, hard surfaces will be thoroughly cleaned and affected bedding, soft-sided furniture, carpet and drywall disposed of. It may take a call to a contractor to have the walls replaced.

It’s hard to quantify how often this is done. Jaime Oeberst, the district coroner for Sedgwick County, said her office goes out to investigate about 750 deaths per year. That includes murders, suicides, accidental deaths, any natural deaths that occur outside of a medical facility, and any deaths that occur inside a medical facility that need investigating. The number of times a trauma cleanup crew would need to be called would be a small fraction of that, she said.

Once the investigation is complete, the coroner’s office removes the body for examination or releases it to the funeral home. The room may need to be cleaned, depending on the manner of death and how long the body was left unattended.

Oeberst said that, if asked, her office will supply the family or property owner a list of companies that do the cleanup, but they do not oversee the industry or make recommendations.

Jill Skaggs, co-owner with Jeff Keeny of Paul Davis Emergency Services, estimates her company handles one dozen to two dozen cases a year. Knowing that she is slightly easing a terrible time for a traumatized family is the best part of the service, she said.

“The part that I love is having that compassion and talking with the homeowners,” Skaggs said.

Trauma cleanup is also quite expensive, usually thousands of dollars, say local companies.

Jeff Chester, owner of Wichita-based Advanced Catastrophe Technologies, a local disaster-restoration company that also contracts with national hotel companies, said a typical trauma cleanup charge ranges between $2,000 to $5,000, depending on the amount of time cleanup takes. Others said cleanup charges can run higher. A homeowner’s insurance may cover part of the cost, he said.

“It is shocking to some, the price, especially on top of the trauma,” Chester acknowledged.

The job is pretty involved. Workers wear full protective gear because of the possible presence of disease-carrying microbes and viruses, he said. Items removed from the premises are treated as medical waste.

And the companies pay their workers more, to help compensate for the stress, they said.

Jerry Winkley, owner of ServiceMaster Clean in a Wink, agreed such work is difficult for employees.

While no identifiable body parts remain, there are often fluids and other body matter. And the scene may be some days old.

“These things do affect you,” Winkley said. “I used to use a cinnamon deodorizer when I did jobs like that. But I would start seeing these scenes whenever I smelled cinnamon. I finally said, ‘I’ve got to stop that because I don’t want to be having these flashbacks every time I smell a cinnamon roll.’”

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or dvoorhis@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danvoorhis.

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