By Melanie Zanona
11:05 AM CST, February 22, 2013
Dan Reynolds’ day job is a profession that most people don’t even know exists: crime scene cleanup.
Even fewer people know that it is not the police department’s responsibility to clean up after homicides, suicides and trauma on private property—even after they’ve been on the scene investigating.
“A lot of people don’t know about this industry, because it’s very difficult to advertise,” said Reynolds, president and supervisor of Chicago Crime Scene Cleanup. “Yes it happens a lot, but how do you put together a good advertisement about our services?”
After a trauma occurs on private property, Reynolds said it is actually the responsibility of the victim’s family or property owner to clean up any remaining mess.
Gary Kass, president of Chicago-based Kass Management Services, has been faced with this task during his 30 years in the real estate management industry.
He’s dealt with everything from people overdosing in their apartments to a maintenance worker falling through a skylight and on top of a glass dining table, all of which require similar protocols: wait for the police or coroners to finish collecting evidence, and then begin the cleanup process as soon as possible.
“Whenever there’s a death, if it’s not certain that the death was natural, the police will put a seal on the apartment and a sign that says call this number if there are any questions,” Kass said. “We usually have to keep checking back until they say it’s OK to start cleaning.”
Kass’ company typically uses its own maintenance crew to clean up after a trauma or death, but he said sometimes professional companies are hired to perform a basket of services, including loss remediation or cleaning services.
“Our hands are tied until we get the all-clear, because we can’t do anything until the police turn the apartment back over,” Kass said. “Then our maintenance crews will usually take care of any necessary cleanup inside the building.”
According to the Chicago Police Department directive related to crime scene protection and processing, “if the crime scene requires a wash down or cleaning and is located on public property, the appropriate city agency will be notified.”
Reynolds, who also moonlights as a firefighter in New Lenox, said that if a trauma occurs on public property, the fire department will usually hose down a bloody street or sidewalk with disinfectant spray. But if the trauma is more extensive or involves bio-hazardous chemicals, the city will need to contract a professional.
That is where services like Reynolds’ come in.
Chicago Crime Scene Cleanup deals with the entire gamut of trauma: homicides, suicides, hoarders, meth labs and decomposing bodies.
“When you think of crime scene cleanup, you think of shootings and stabbings, but there are also the times when people pass away and nobody finds them for weeks,” the 39-year-old Reynolds said. “There’s specialized cleanup that needs to be done in every instance.”
The lack of knowledge about what to do in the aftermath of a trauma can make Reynolds’ job even more difficult. The Minooka native said most people will just try to clean the mess themselves.
Reynolds recalls an incident when a man tried to scrub blood off the floor after his girlfriend attempted suicide, but the wood began to smell rotten after a few days. The man had instinctively taken thorough pictures of the original scene, so Reynolds was able to trace where the blood had been lurking beneath the floorboards and tear up the wood, but it was tricky.
“People will try to clean it up, and that makes it worse, because I won’t be able to tell where the blood trail might be,” Reynolds said. “Cleaning the surface is the easy part, but it’s the getting underneath part that matters.”
The first step after a trauma occurs is to wait until the police have collected all the evidence and turned over the crime scene, which is usually indicated by the removal of barrier tape or just communicated verbally by a police supervisor.
Next, assess whether the mess needs to be cleaned professionally, which depends on the circumstances. If it is your own blood or a very small amount, Reynolds said you could probably clean it yourself with disinfectant spray and rubber gloves. (Reynolds’ crew routinely wears full protective body suits, hoods, double-layered gloves and boots.)
But if the trauma involves chemicals or more than just a small pool of blood, it is best to hire a professional. Reynolds said it can also ease the minds of a victim’s family who cannot emotionally handle the task of cleaning up after the death of a loved one.
The cost and duration of cleaning services depends on the nature of the trauma, but Reynolds said his services for a typical blood cleanup range from $1,500 to $5,000 and can take up to eight hours.
“If I could give any advice to someone in that position, it’s make sure you get an upfront, written estimate of the cost,” Reynolds said. “It’s a bad time in the client’s life, and there are a lot of scrupulous companies out there that take advantage of that.”
Homeowners and renters insurance will cover crime scene cleanup in almost every instance, so consult with those companies first before hiring a cleaning service. Business insurance also will cover crime scene cleanup, but the deductible often costs more than the total cleaning bill.
Finally, it is important to thoroughly research companies before hiring a cleaning service. Reynolds said most of his clients find Chicago Crime Scene Cleanup through the internet or referrals from property management companies. Police departments, morticians and paramedics also will refer cleaning companies, but Reynolds warns that it is still crucial to do your homework before making such an important decision.
“Most people have never used our services before,” Reynolds said. “And hopefully they never have to use them again.”
Melanie Zanona is a RedEye special contributor.
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