MARGATE, Fla. – Violent crime, suicides, people living in filth. These are the dark parts of everyday life that leave behind a devastating reality for those affected.
For many, the shock and trauma is so overwhelming that they don’t know where to turn for help. That is where crime scene cleaners come in.
"People have a misconception of what we do," said Earl Shook, the owner of Steri-Clean in Margate.
When the first responders and news crews are long gone, Shook’s work is just beginning.
For 25 years, the former Hallandale Beach police sergeant responded to the calls. It was the 2008 murder of a wealthy businessman that made him realize what victims' loved ones face after police officers leave.
"When we got to his home there was a trail of blood and it was right out of the movies. There was blood everywhere," Shook said. "It was in the back of my mind how you can help families and help people in need so they don’t have to do that type of cleanup."
Beyond murders and suicides, these professionals are often called in on cases of decomposition when someone dies of natural causes, but their body isn’t found for days.
"In one case the deceased started dripping with blood into the apartment below, so with that you have to remove the flooring and the sub-flooring, which can take some time to do properly," Shook said.
The cleanup effort involves special chemicals, cleaning tools, hazmat suits, boots, gloves and respirators.
"You have to keep yourself safe and your employees safe," Shook said.
The biohazards go beyond dealing with death. Shook’s company is also called in to handle hoarding cases, which he said are equally difficult.
"There’s usually feces everywhere so it’s very, very hard, because of the smells to deal with," Shook said.
People have asked why he takes on this kind of work, and he said the answer is simple: The desire to help people in the worst of times.
"It’s really hard to convey that to somebody, because you’re cleaning up brains [and] you’re cleaning up blood, but there’s more to it," Shook said. "When you’re coming out of it and you see how clean it is, what you’ve done, your accomplishment and how the family really, truly appreciates you coming in there and helping them, it’s extremely rewarding."
As far as cost, Shook said it depends on the magnitude of the scene. He did say people should be wary if they’re told it could cost several thousand dollars.