Trauma calling

Rich Vettraino's job didn't begin as a childhood dream. After all, who'd ever think to become the guy who cleans up blood, body parts and fluids after messy accidents, murders and suicides?

"A lot of the jobs that we go to are suicides or natural deaths ... and the family doesn't know what to do," says Vettraino, owner and founder of Elite Trauma Clean-Up, Inc., a Clinton Township company. Its 100 part-time employees are dispatched to grisly and sad sites.

"When we get the call, we scramble," Vettraino says.

About 12 years ago, Vettraino was working on the Special Macomb Incident Response Team when he and a group of emergency medical workers were speculating who'd cleanse a home where a man had attempted suicide. "I looked into it," he says. The answer was no one, really. Families were saddled with the burden or would call general cleaning services. And no one had standards to follow for cleaning up or disposing of biomedical waste.

So Vettraino started the company out of his house. He built a desk into one of his bedroom closets and added a phone and fax line. "In two years we had an office," he says. "Within the next two years, we moved into a facility." And it became his full-time job.

That's a 2,800-square-foot office and garage along Gratiot Avenue where he and one full-time employee also run a medical waste disposal company. He has two custom-built Ford trucks with equipment including Tyvek suits, rappelling harnesses, cleaning products and tools. They work throughout Michigan, focusing on Macomb, Wayne, Oakland, Genesee and Washtenaw counties.

Police departments, industrial and manufacturing companies, insurers and private individuals call Elite Trauma's toll-free line. The company can be found under the "Crime Scene and Trauma Clean Up" heading in the yellow pages. "I started the title," Vettraino says.

He and his employees have cleaned up police cruisers after officers have been shot, factory floors after workers have been mangled and rooms of houses and apartments after troubled souls have ended their lives.

Sometimes bodies sit for weeks and months before anyone notices. Those are complicated jobs where most everything in the home has to be thrown away because the smell lingers. Cleaning is extensive. "Everything has to get tossed," he says.

But one of Vettraino's worst calls was a recent one: a house where a woman and 30 cats lived. "The house cannot be cleaned," he says. "Cats are the worst."

A typical job begins after police technicians have worked the scene and the body is removed. The Elite Trauma team then cleans up, throwing out garbage, cleaning blood off floors, walls and ceilings, and decontaminating. Sometimes they need to cut out carpeting and parts of the house like flooring and joists that have been too contaminated and structurally compromised by the decaying body to be saved. Some smells never go away.

Every job is meticulously photographed. Invoices are itemized and files are kept on each. His employees are local police officers, fire fighters and military vets; those Vettraino can trust. "We don't have anyone off the street here. Sometimes when we're going through the home, we find money, drugs, jewelry. We'll turn it over to the family. I've heard horror stories where [other companies] have gone in and items have come up stolen and they can't prove it," he says.

For six years Vettraino has been trying to get legislation passed that would regulate the bio clean-up industry by creating guidelines, protocols and reporting procedures. Sponsored by Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mount Clemens, it has passed the House but awaits the Senate. Established, reputable companies like Elite Trauma need to be distinguished from services that, say, would throw a bloody mattress in a Dumpster, according to Miller.

"They deserve to be in a class by themselves," he says.

Vettraino is hopeful the legislation will pass soon — he has spent six years lobbying for it. But regardless of the obstacles to his business's success, he would never go back to his municipal hazmat job where he was tired of the "political bullshit."

"This is better," he says.

Sandra Svoboda is a Metro Times staff writer. Contact her at 313-202-8015 or [email protected]
Scroll to read more Culture articles


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.