Three technicians wearing white hazmat suits comb through every inch of a vacant apartment near Palm Springs, an apartment recently occupied by a drug addict.
Using a medical-grade disinfectant, one tech wipes down the floors and fixtures while another, using needle-nose pliers, carefully picks through cluttered dresser drawers and trash-strewn countertops looking for biohazardous items.
“The hot spots and anywhere where he might have touched … refrigerators, appliances, counters, light switches,” said Phil Rodriguez, a lead technician and owner of a TraumOne franchise, a company specializing in biohazardous cleanup.
TraumOne services are available for hoarding situations, drug labs, crime scenes, trauma scenes, death scenes, and spaces possibly contaminated by the COVID-19 virus. Several Orange County law enforcement agencies regularly tap the services of TraumOne.
A TraumOne tech carefully picked syringes and tiny pieces of tinfoil spotted with burn marks, likely used to cook heroin or methamphetamine.
A queen-sized soiled mattress is removed along with other garbage and unsalvageable items and piled into an unmarked flatbed truck parked in front of the residence.
“We use universal precautions,” Rodriguez said. “We consider every drop of blood to be deadly.”
While this particular job did not require a high degree of sensitivity, many cleanup projects require as much compassion as technical know-how.
Cleanup of scenes where suicides and homicides have occurred are somewhat common, said Don Gilmartin, co-founder of TraumOne along with Kurt Szalonek.
The founders believe so strongly in the principle of compassion the word is spelled out in capitalized letters in much of their advertising.
“I believe it’s an honor to serve our service clients in their time of need,” Gilmartin said. “It’s from that principle we’ve built our brand to model the funeral industry and be there for our clients. As a company we train, build and encourage our entire organization, franchisees and their employees to maintain a constant service-above-self mentality, just like first responders.”
While there are companies specializing in cleanup in the wake of crimes, floods and fires, TraumOne is one of the few that focuses solely on biohazardous cleanup.
Many of these companies have their name and advertising emblazoned all over their vehicles.
Some will even show clients’ homes in their advertising, Gilmartin said.
“Its cheap non-creative advertising to get voyeuristic and disgusting imagery to grab revenue,” Gilmartin said.
TraumOne vehicles are always unmarked, Rodriguez said, and technicians are always trying to protect the integrity of the scene.
“That is our highest priority … to make sure that we give them the best experience of the worst experience that they’ve had. You are walking that line between getting the job correctly and overwhelming the family, and making decisions on what to dispose of and what to keep.”
Skills and personality traits that Szalonek looks for in new franchisees include their ability to pay attention to detail, willingness to learn, and desire to exceed their own and their clients expectations.
“I believe the most important things are the passion and compassion for helping others,” Szalonek said. “With those (qualities), all of the other necessary skills for our line of service will fall right in place.”
Franchisees also receive the Trauma Intervention Program’s emotional first aid training, which focuses on providing support and comfort to the victims of traumatic experiences.
“By doing so, we have built a brand to protect and serve over self and offer services well beyond a janitorial cleanup like others,” Gilmartin said.
TraumOne crews are on call 24 hours per day.
“We consider any situation a call to service and (it’s) honor to serve the community,” Rodriguez said.
Realtor Shelli Banko, one of TraumOne’s newest franchisees, met Gilmartin at a Chamber of Commerce function.
The more she learned about the business, the more she wanted to become involved.
“I just love being able to help people,” Banko said. “I just care about people. So I thought if I want to help other people, maybe this is something I should be doing.”
Said Gilmartin: “A typical franchisee profile consists of caring people passionate about making a difference in their community. The entire company is committed to a true team effort in all they do. All franchisees rally together in times of crisis and help support to build teams if extra crews are needed. It’s a complete non-competitive franchise of support in everything they do.
“The beauty is what each franchise brings to the company. Many have other outside businesses as well. Some are firefighters, mortuary transport companies, and real estate agents. Some are moms and others just compassionate, driven people.”