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Inside Tampa Bay’s industry-leading crime scene cleanup company

Mark Parker

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Laura Spalding, founder and CEO of Spaulding Decon, with a crew of technicians. Spaulding's company was recently ranked as Entrepreneur magazine's top crime scene cleaning franchise. Photos provided.

Many people are shocked to learn that after a horrific crime or tragedy, grieving families must clean up the mess left behind without assistance from the police or emergency services.

Laura Spaulding’s former career as a police officer offered many opportunities to witness the devastating after-effects crime brings to a household. Disenchanted by law enforcement’s low pay, “crappy” hours and a feeling of going nowhere, she began to contemplate starting a business but said she needed something she could bootstrap due to her lack of savings.

Spaulding went back to college and earned her MBA, hoping that would open some doors. It did not. She said her lightbulb moment occurred while working a homicide one night.

“And the victim’s mom asked me when the police were coming back to clean it (the murder scene) up,” she said. “And I was like, ‘wow, we don’t clean that up.’

“But I had never been asked that before.”

A former police officer, Spaulding bootstrapped her company into a successful franchise with 56 locations across the country.

Based in Tampa, Spaulding founded Spaulding Decon in 2005 with a desire to help families in need and ensure no one must handle a crime scene cleanup alone. After receiving an incident report, she sends a handpicked, carefully vetted crew to the scene as soon as possible. If the crime occurs at an apartment complex, Spaulding said the notice typically originates from the manager. If one of the area’s many elderly residents passes away at home alone, she said it could take several days to receive the cleanup call, making the scene that much worse.

Time is of the essence for both those affected by the crime and the decontamination service. The Tampa headquarters covers St. Petersburg and the bay area, and the company operates in seven other cities throughout the state.  During a recent YouTube interview with Anthony Padilla – Spaulding Decon enjoys a massive social media presence with over six million followers – she cited Florida’s heat and humidity for exacerbating cleanup efforts.

“When someone passes away, they will literally melt into the floor and drip through the ceiling of the person below it,” she said in the video. “And it’s always tragic for them to call maintenance and say, ‘there’s a sewage leak upstairs’ … and then they go in, and that person is just a puddle of soup.”

Once the decontamination crew arrives, Spaulding said they begin forensic cleaning and disinfecting using proprietary cleaning products and state-of-the-art tools. The process includes removing biological matter, blood, biohazards, bodily fluids, fingerprint dust and other contaminations from the scene.

“And make it look like its pre-incident condition,” said Spaulding. “When you kind of average it out, good and bad, it’s about four to six hours for two to three people.”

Spaulding regularly sees the worst of humanity, although she said nothing is as personally traumatic for her as scenes involving kids. Specifically, child suicides are the saddest calls, she said.

Murder-suicides are also especially difficult, said Spaulding, but added for her, the job is more physically demanding than mentally straining. She elaborated that the decontamination crews wear respirators, Tyvek hazmat suits and double gloves. She added that jobs are typically extremely hot and often occur in tight quarters.

“Like, we did a suicide in the attic – it was super difficult,” she said. “So, you just have to have the right mindset to kind of look at it just like a mess, instead of internalizing that was a person.”

Since founding the company in 2005, Spaulding said there was never a moment where she could not complete a job or contemplated quitting the fieldwork. “I’ve never had second thoughts about it at all,” she added.

As for her employees, Spaulding said there is no extreme turnover. However, a technician leaves about every six months, she said.

Spaulding Decon has experienced rapid growth over the years, and the services it provides are also expanding. Spaulding offers biohazard cleanup and decontamination, both residentially and commercially, for things like rotting animal carcasses, human feces and toxic sludge. The company also addresses drug labs.

According to its website, one pound of meth produces six pounds of toxic waste, and meth labs are highly combustible. The company cleans the former drug labs and offers a meth residue testing kit for new home and business owners.

Spaulding Decon’s technicians are licensed and certified in the safe removal of various bacteria and viruses, including everything from Covid to Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The company offers mold remediation, and its hoarding cleanup services have proven popular with both customers and Spaulding’s social media following.

Spaulding, who started as her company’s sole employee and remains its CEO, bootstrapped and self-funded her business through every stage of its growth. In 2016, She began offering franchising opportunities. Today, she said there are 56 Spaulding Decon franchises across the country – from New Jersey to Arizona.

Entrepreneur magazine recently ranked Spaulding Decon as its top crime scene cleaning company in its 2022 Franchise 500 list. For the third consecutive year, the company also received recognition under the maintenance & home restoration category. Spaulding Decon currently sits at #298 on the overall Franchise 500 list.

“It’s surreal,” said Spaulding of the ranking. “We’re only in our sixth year doing this (franchising), so it’s kind of crazy to think that we’ve made that kind of impact already.”

She said the goal is to reach 100 locations in the United States before branching out to Canada, the United Kingdom and then Australia. She said it costs about $250,000 to open a franchise, although she gives one away annually.

Every year, in honor of Veterans Day, Spaulding gifts a franchise to a former member of the armed services.

“We kind of choose who we feel like is a good fit for our brand,” she said. “And somebody we feel can really grow their unit, their system.”

Part One in a series. Part Two explores Spaulding Decon’s millions of social media followers, potential reality TV shows and its burgeoning real estate operation.

 

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