The Business of Crime-Scene Cleanup

Nate Berg Scene Clean
Photo by Kelly Loverud

 

Nate Berg is founder and president of Scene Clean, a team of biohazard professionals specializing in cleanup arising from murder, suicide, unattended death, infectious disease, sewer backups, and extreme hoarding. Since the American Psychiatric Association recognized hoarding as a distinct and diagnosable mental disorder in 2013, that segment of the business has expanded substantially now that it’s often paid for by insurance.

“I got my paramedic degree and started working in Monticello, then Big Lake, and North Memorial. I transferred to the metro division in 2002. Obviously there’s a big difference between what you see in rural communities and what you see in the metro. There was one murder in particular in North Minneapolis—the amount of blood in that house was ridiculous. I remember thinking: Who cleans this up?

“In 2010, I retired from active 911 duty with the intention of focusing on my real-estate career. Then I did a little research and found that there weren’t a lot of people anywhere running crime-scene cleanup businesses. I raised a $10,000 budget in the spring of 2012 and bought a lot of equipment. We had eight calls in our first six months, but by last year we had 101. This year, we’re averaging about a call a day. We started with two employees and now just hired our 19th.”

“When you’re in the hot zone with the suits on, it’s like being dressed in Saran wrap. It’s a job where there’s no room for error. If you leave a blood spot on the wall where a loved one has killed themselves, you are re-traumatizing that family. Sometimes we’re asked why we’re taking so long, and that’s why: It has to be done to perfection.”

“We recently had a tear-gas cleanup [after a police standoff] in Cottage Grove that was a monster job. It gets everywhere. The tear-gas projectile can wreck the wall down to the studs, and you have to get rid of all the carpets and the sofas. The most common substance is CS gas—it’s not truly a gas but a powder, and if you stir it up, it will reactivate. You end up having to pull everything out of the house, item by item.”

“In 2013, we got introduced to hoarding cleanup. That’s exploded into the number-one division of our company. We get four to five calls a week from families and friends of hoarders. Now I’m on the Minnesota Hoarding Task Force, and I’m on the board of directors for The Hoarding Project. I’ve dedicated the past two years to learning everything I can about the subject.”

“There are five degrees of hoarding. The fours and the fives are the ones you might have seen on TV—they’re the ones we focus on. The research shows that most people who hoard have had a traumatic experience. Often it’s a divorce, an abusive spouse, or the death of someone really close to them. They have an event they can’t process, and they start keeping things. Those items aren’t going to leave them, and they become like a Band-Aid protecting a wound. They know they have a problem, but they’re embarrassed of being judged.”

“We also try to make sure that we bring at least one first responder on every call we go on. That also adds to the compassion level and an instant trust with our clients. I did go through some post-traumatic stress at the end of my EMT career. The worst thing is seeing someone suffer in front of you. So for me now, I’m coming in after trauma has already happened, and bringing some peace and restoration to whoever is left afterward.”

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Quinton Skinner is a writer and editor based in the Twin Cities. A former senior editor of Minnesota Monthly, he held the same post at Twin Cities METRO and 
has written for major national and local publications. He is the co-founder of Logosphere Storysmiths and author of several novels, including his latest, Odd One Out.