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Six-figure jobs: Crime-scene cleaner
This career is truly a case of "no guts, no glory." But don't expect much in the way of glory.
April 15, 2005: 4:04 PM EDT
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) It's not just the blood. It's not just the gore. It's not just the stomach-turning stench.

It's also the anthrax, the hazardous bodily fluids and the combustible chemicals used to make illegal drugs that make the job of crime-scene cleaner so challenging.

That may be why many folks who go into the field have had careers in public health and safety. They've seen it all, and they know how to protect themselves.

Ron Gospodarski, who is president of Bio-Recovery Corp. in New York City, used to be a paramedic. Juan Osteguin, a co-owner of Crime Scene Cleaners in San Antonio, is an emergency-room nurse.

It's not as if advanced degrees are required. In fact, Gospodarski said, a large number of his employees don't even have college diplomas.

What they do have is a strong stomach and a willingness to do some pretty thankless work.

Among their tasks: Cleaning blood off walls and small family trinkets, ripping out stained carpeting, disposing of furniture, dealing with decomposed bodies or the loose remains of murder victims. (As Gospodarski put it, the medical examiner takes the big pieces, the crime-scene cleaners take the rest.)

All this is done, mind you, while wearing a hot and heavy Hazmat suit, complete with double-filter respirators and chemical-spill boots.

It's not all blood-and-guts work, though. Just as often, crime-scene cleaners will be called in to clear out an illegal drug lab after a government bust or to clean up an anthrax site, as Gospodarski's company did many times after the attacks of Sept. 11.

If you're working for a crime-scene cleaning company, you may be required to take certification courses that cover, among other things, hazardous materials, protection against them and the regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that govern crime-scene clean-ups.

The official hours aren't bad you might be scheduled for a 9-to-5 or 8-to-4 shift. But you will be on call regularly, and there's no telling how long a job will take.

"The problem is you never know what you're going to face. How do you gear up?" Gospodarski said.

Depending on the magnitude of a situation, a clean-up could take anywhere from a couple of hours to three 16-hour days, Osteguin said.

If you want to earn six figures cleaning up serious messes, it helps if you enjoy living near high-crime areas and places that might make a terrorist exclaim, "Sweet!" That is, big cities.

Not that you can't make good money in, say, Fargo, N.D. or Paris, Tex. But you're less likely to break through the six-figure barrier. On the other hand, your dollar is likely to go a lot farther in those places than in Chicago or Los Angeles.

Those starting out in the field might make $35,000 a year full-time. But after a few years that can grow to $75,000 or $80,000 in a big market, Gospodarski said. Coupled with some moonlighting, your earnings can approach six figures.

Your best chances of making six figures anywhere is to own your own service. But, Osteguin said, "a lot depends on who you know." In other words, it pays to have good relationships with the local mortuaries, funeral homes, homicide departments and the district attorney's office.

While the money can be good, there are other upsides to the job. Namely, making life a little better for the survivors of violence, accidents, suicides and other traumas.

"I like to make a difference. We spare (the survivors) the hurt and pain of cleaning up those atrocities," Osteguin said.

The crime-scene cleaner also can serve as an empathetic presence for survivors in shock.

Being non-judgmental is key, because you'll see all sorts of things in "places you wouldn't believe," Gospodarski said.

"We sort of become counselors," he said. "You're like the priest in the confessional. You take a code of silence."  Top of page


Crime, Law and Justice
Health and Safety at Work
Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)
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