Even a Dirty Job Can Lead to Success
When deaths occur in a business or home, hazardous waste is left behind, creating a dangerous environment for future tenants. An ordinary maid service can usually make the area appear clean on the surface. However, it takes a professional to properly remove the dangerous molds, bacteria and bloodborne pathogens that can lead to sickness and even death. And that is where Jerry Turner steps in. In 2003, after reading a magazine article that piqued his interest, he decided to launch Advanced Bio-Treatment (ABT), which has been providing crime-scene and biohazard cleanup services throughout the United States ever since. Earlier this year, Turner was named No. 12 in CNN’s “Off the Wall” ways to make money. He ranked first on a similar AOL list in 2007.
Masters of Mayhem It’s dirty work, but cleaning up crime scenes, meth labs and other hazardous sites is no match for these experts at Advanced Bio-Treatment By Daniel Mutter Originally published in the Oct/Nov 2010 issue of 850 Magazine
“It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s goT to do it! When disaster strikes, we clean up the mess.”
So reads the business description on Advanced Bio-Treatment’s Facebook page.
When deaths occur in a business or home, hazardous waste is left behind, creating a dangerous environment for future tenants. An ordinary maid service can usually make the area appear clean on the surface. However, it takes a professional to properly remove the dangerous molds, bacteria and bloodborne pathogens that can lead to sickness and even death.
And that is where Jerry Turner steps in. In 2003, after reading a magazine article that piqued his interest, he decided to launch Advanced Bio-Treatment (ABT), which has been providing crime-scene and biohazard cleanup services throughout the United States ever since. Earlier this year, Turner was named No. 12 in CNN’s “Off the Wall” ways to make money. He ranked first on a similar AOL list in 2007.
The hazardous-waste cleaning business — which tackles everything from murder-scene and meth-lab cleanup to contagious-illness decontamination and pet-odor removal — has proven to be lucrative. With movies such as “Cleaner” and “Sunshine Cleaning” promising big paydays, companies have popped up across the country in hopes of making a quick buck.
“The last few years, you’ve had so much interest in this industry,” says Turner, president and owner of ABT, who recently moved to Destin to expand his Florida business. “People mistakenly think they can start this business up and make $100,000 a year, just like that. That may have been true seven years ago, but it’s not true now.”
When ABT got its start, crime-scene cleaning companies were generally unheard of.
“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 Turner, who was a police officer for six years and ran his own insurance company for three before starting ABT. “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 began the business much like many others in the industry: by attending classes in biohazardous waste cleanup and learning from the pros already doing the job.
“When I first got started, I did a lot of research just on cleaning up bloodborne pathogens,” he 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.”
After attending the classes and researching similar crime-scene cleaning businesses for 90 days, Turner closed his insurance business and borrowed $50,000 to start ABT.
“You cannot go into it with $3,000 and a one-week class,” he says. “You have to be fully capitalized.”
ABT grew, eventually expanding its services to 26 states. Turner began placing managers at central locations from Florida to Wisconsin so that they would be available to respond to any situation.
“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.”
ABT’s business model consists of several full-time state and regional managers placed at central locations. To keep the overhead down, work vehicles and various cleaning supplies are kept at local storage facilities, allowing ABT to answer a call virtually anywhere as quickly as possible. When ABT receives a call for a job, it goes to a third-party calling center, which sends the job information via text message to all managers. The closest manager then gathers his or her team, which often includes retirees or others who can quickly respond to the job site.
Under each manager is a team of part-time cleaning technicians who are trained by managers on the job.
“After they’ve been on five or six jobs, we’re going to have them trained pretty well to where now they understand why they do certain things and why it’s important to do it,” Turner says. “We do, at minimum, an annual screening to teach our employees what this stuff means and why it’s important to do it.”
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 require those few people that aren’t bothered by the experience.
“I can remember a case in North Florida where a victim took his own life with a high powered rifle,” says Howard Carroll, 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 to work in. He is then able to come back to the crew with a plan of action.
Turner says that ABT 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,” he explains. “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.”
One of the biggest challenges of a crime-scene cleanup business is advertising the company to clients. When incidents occur, most people have no idea that there are businesses that handle the mess afterward. They naturally ask the first responders whom to call.
“It’s unique because you have to have people who will refer you, and in some cases they have a little bit of a conflict of interest — they’re told that they are not allowed to recommend a particular business,” Turner says.
ABT works to get its name out to the first responders, in hopes that the company will be mentioned when work needs to be done.
“Sometimes you crack the egg, sometimes you don’t, when it comes to getting people to recommend you,” Turner says. “But most people in that type of business, whether they’re an emergency medical technician, firefighter or police officer, if someone asks them for help, they are inclined to give it.”
Turner spends more than $7,000 a month just on advertising, in order to get the company’s name and reputation out to the public.
“To be perfectly honest, that’s the toughest part about my business, advertising,” he says. “With more companies popping up each year, the competition is stiffer than ever, so name recognition is key.”
Another important aspect of biohazardous waste cleanup is making sure you have proper insurance coverage.
“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,” Turner says.
There are thousands of invisible hazards that cover job scenes. Hepatitis, staph infection and
E. coli can contaminate a home or business and get left behind for future tenants. Bodily fluids can also lead to unsafe molds and funguses, often resulting in odors that can linger for years if not properly treated.
“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.”
ABT may be known as a cleanup company, but 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 are all often removed in order to rid the area of future mold or odor. Any waste also must be removed properly so as not to cause any hazards for neighboring properties.
Earlier this year, Turner told the Northwest Florida Daily News that “what we do is kind of weird, but it is a job where I get to help people on a daily basis.”