Crew at Ebola home steps into national spotlight

AP News
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Posted: Oct 07, 2014 10:21 PM
Crew at Ebola home steps into national spotlight

DALLAS (AP) — The Fort Worth, Texas, company Cleaning Guys has dealt with hazardous spills. It has cleared bloody crime scenes, including some that involved HIV.

But Garrett Eison, the company's operations manager, said he was initially anxious when the company agreed to take on a job others were hesitant to do: cleaning up the Dallas apartment where an Ebola patient stayed.

"This is definitely something that would make you a little more nervous," Eison said, though he added that because he knew his company was prepared, "I don't feel worried about it."

Eison was part of a 15-member crew that spent four days at the apartment where Thomas Eric Duncan stayed when he began showing Ebola-related symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. They wore protective suits with gas masks as they filled about 140 barrels with items from the home for incineration, including mattresses, the patient's sheets and the entire apartment's carpet.

By the end, logos on the company's black and green trailers — televised nationwide by media camped outside the home — became a recognizable brand across Dallas, where Eison's colleagues have been approached in public and thanked.

The job wasn't easy to fill. At a briefing last week, Texas Health Commissioner David Lakey said that "there's been a little bit of hesitancy for entities to want to do that." A Dallas County spokeswoman said Tuesday that the county contacted seven vendors for the task and that "the only vendor that was responsive and met the guidelines" for that kind of waste disposal was the Cleaning Guys.

Duncan arrived in Dallas last month from Ebola-ravaged Liberia and stayed in the apartment with Louise Troh, her 13-year-old son and two nephews until he developed symptoms several days later and was eventually hospitalized. The family was moved to an undisclosed location on Friday, the day the cleanup started. They have not yet shown symptoms.

For the next several days, the crew cleared out the place, including a 26-hour final stretch lasting into Monday. The job required rotating two-person teams after they'd worked for 40 minutes to avoid exhaustion. They disposed of most of the family's belongings but were able to set aside items such as passports, a laptop, a family Bible, trophies, photographs and other keepsakes.

Company owner Erick McCallum said that for the job they set up a "little city" outside the apartment that included food, portable toilets and a place for workers to rest. They also made sure workers were properly hydrated and had their blood pressure under control.

McCallum said his crew didn't have any specific training for Ebola, which is spread by contact with bodily fluids and has killed more than 3,400 people in West Africa. But he noted his company's previous work prepared them for what he calls his business' most high-profile job.

The workers consulted with Dallas County and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to ensure everyone was safe.

"It comes down to biohazard training," he said. "The steps and precautions taken are basically the same."

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Associated Press writers Diana Heidgerd and Emily Schmall contributed to this report.