Monday, February 3, 2020

Retired fire captain starts biohazard cleanup business to fill community need

Donna Odem-Nichols saw a lot during her 32 years with the Victoria Fire Department, including a need for a service that can be difficult to talk about and traumatic for families already grappling with immense loss. Contrary to what one might assume, families are responsible for postmortem cleanup after first responders and law enforcement leave the scene of a death. “It is something you don’t even know you need until you need it,” Odem-Nichols said. “In Victoria we’ve never really had a real community-oriented company that would do this work, so I’ve actually gotten off at 7 o’clock before and gone back to a home to clean up for people because I felt sorry for them, and I didn’t want them to have to deal with that personal reminder of a tragic event.” Now retired, Odem-Nichols has started a biohazard remediation company called Angels Among Us with her husband, John Nichols, to serve the residents of Victoria and surrounding counties. The business provides professional services for crime and trauma scenes, as well as hoarding cleanup. There are other businesses in Victoria that offer biohazard cleanup services, including the locally owned ServPro of Victoria franchise, though the bulk of options are part of national corporations. In addition to tacking on emotional distress, cleaning up and disposing of bodily fluids and carpets, beds and other materials can lead to health risks such as HIV and hepatitis exposure. If the cleaning is not done correctly, odors may return. Chief Tracy Fox of the Victoria Fire Department said it’s important for families to do their research and ask questions about how the cleanup process works when looking for services. Both the Victoria Fire Department and Victoria Police Department cannot recommend one service over another, but Fox said department staff will often sit down with families and try to help them identify businesses to call. “There definitely is a need,” Fox said. “Some scenes take a substantial amount of cleaning up or remediation and others do not, but when you need those services you need somebody that knows how to come in and do it effectively, and that is what we see as the biggest challenge.” Crime scene cleanup services are often covered by residential homeowner’s insurance, but there are other reimbursement options available. Officer David Brogger, of the Victoria Police Department, said the department’s Crime Victim Liaison assists eligible families in filing for compensation through the Texas Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund, which provides assistance for medical bills, counseling, lost wages, funeral expenses and other crime-related expenses like cleanup services without any cost to taxpayers. While biohazard cleanup is not a regulated industry, professionals have to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules regarding how businesses handle everything from bloodborne pathogens and respiratory risks to working in confined spaces. Odem-Nichols and her team, Marty Williamson and Brandy Marek, all have multiple years of medical experience and underwent specific training for OSHA compliance and biohazard remediation certification, she said. aftermath crime scene cleanup
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Privacy is a priority, especially in the Crossroads’ close-knit communities, Odem-Nichols said. “One of the things that is so important is privacy,” she said. “People don’t want people to know that something happened in their location or their home ... We show up very discreetly; our cars are not marked and we take care of business and leave discreetly.” Residents can call Angels Among Us at any hour to receive an estimate for services. The team will set up work areas to limit cross-contamination and remove affected materials, including contamination you can only see with proper detection devices. After serving Victoria through the fire department for several decades, Odem-Nichols said she is grateful to find a new way to fill a different need in the community. “We’ve seen so many people devastated by having to take care of their families after an emotional death,” she said. “So we’re here to take care of that for you.”

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