How do you clean up after death?
[Trigger warning: Mentions of suicide and suicide attempts]
In a 2015 statistic, it was estimated that 40, 000 people die yearly in the woodlands and metropolitan area of Minnesota, the most northern state outside of Alaska.
It could be from fatal accidents, or to more gruesome crimes like murder, and unfortunately, also suicide. Many of these bodies are not discovered for weeks or months at a time, and in the case deaths occurring in buildings, material from the decomposing bodies can seep down all the way from the carpeting to the basement.
Writer Andy Mannix of the MinnPost details the story of Nate Berg, a former paramedic who runs the cleanup crew called Scene Clean Incorporated, an Osseo-based company that specializes in biohazard cleanup.
They are the team that comes in after emergency responders, the police investigators, and scene-of-the crime crew have finished up their work.
Dead bodies are often not discovered for weeks or months at a time. In the biohazard cleanup business, these are called “decomps,” and they’re the most laborious jobs.
“The best way to describe a decomp clean is peeling layers off an onion,” says Berg. “You just gotta keep pulling back those layers until you don’t find anymore body material.”
Scene Clean’s job is essentially to make a death look like it never happened, especially in homes and offices. Foremost of this reason is that dead bodies that were not taken care of for some time have the possibility of spreading contaminants and disease.
It’s also because banks or family members are trying to sell the place where the death occurred, and it’s important that not a drop of blood or any odor is left behind.
But for Berg, the reason goes much deeper than preserving aesthetics or ensuring cleanliness: it’s psychological.
“In many of Scene Clean’s jobs, the family or close friends of the deceased still live in the house where the person died. It takes only a single blood splatter to serve as a constant reminder of what tragic thing happened [there],” wrote Mannix.
According to the report, in the last months of 2012, Scene Clean worked eight jobs. In 2013 and ’14 combined, they worked 170. By 2015, business has been picking up, and as of early December, the crew has already worked 157.
The company now employs 16 people. The hiring process is difficult, with applicants deluging Berg with resumes, but he knows most of them couldn’t handle the gruesome reality of what they’re cleaning up after. Currently, almost all of the staff have backgrounds in emergency response or the military.
To help make the job easier to stomach, Berg advises them not to think about what they’re cleaning during training.
“I just tell them,” he says, “‘all of it is ketchup on the floor, with maybe some macaroni.’”
Read more of Berg’s fascinating yet macabre work here.