I always knew I’d be an exterminator, because it’s sort of our family business. It started with my Great-Uncle Zain, my grandad’s elder brother. He got into it entirely by accident. He was kind of a hippie I guess. Got out of school at 16, restored his dad’s beat-up ute, and drove all over Australia. He didn’t really have a plan – just a few dollars and a great laugh.
Zainy – that’s what everybody called him – would drive from town to town, spending a few days or maybe a few weeks there, depending on how welcoming the people were. He’d sleep in his car mostly, unless someone offered him a bed and a roof. He’d pay his food and board by doing chores around his host’s place. Sometimes it was stacking firewood, other times it was chasing ferrets – they weren’t a protected species back then.
Anyway, Zainy got really good at commercial pest control, and whenever he came back home and shared is adventures, one of the relatives would want to tag along. Within a few years, there were several family members driving utes around the country, drinking beer, roasting barbies, and killing pests. By the time dad came along, he had registered the business and got all the legal documents. We worked out of utes so we could service the whole country.
All in the family business
Nobody was forced into the business, but nobody got a free ride either. You had to earn your way in. Some of my cousins became lawyers, accountants, or web developers in the business. I wanted to be hands on, so I went to Sydney Uni and studied integrated pest control management. That got me my own truck, and boy, do I have stories. You know those horror stories from the eighties? Like Slugs and Arachnophobia? Well, in real life, it can get a lot worse!
Bedbugs are really hard to get rid of because they’re virtually indestructible. A girl bedbug can lay an egg or five every day, and that doesn’t seem too bad. But when these eggs hatch into nymphs, they can stay a year or longer without food – up to 550 days. They just lie there dormant, waiting for a warm human body to feed on. And if those baby bugs have blood to drink, they’re ready to be mamas in just a few months.
Grown bedbugs can hide in the tiniest space or crack, inside mattress, crevices in the wall, seat seams, anywhere. And if you leave even one bedbug alive, it’ll lay 500 eggs in a year. Now imagine a bedbug infestation in a correctional facility for teenage boys. These kids are only visited a few times a year, and because they’re angsty teenagers, the adults in their lives don’t always take their complaints seriously. All it sounds like is whine-whine-whine.
Don’t let the bedbugs …
This school was out in the country, so lots of wild rodents and bush roaches. Cockroaches in the wild aren’t that bad. It’s when the get into your house that it’s a problem. Well, these cockroaches discovered the school was full of bedbugs, and there’s nothing a cockroach loves more than a bedbug. So here’s a swarm of bedbugs laying multiple eggs every day, offering a free buffet for cockroach nests, which are now multiplying at the same pace.
Of course the students complained, but they were already labelled as troublemakers, and I guess the staff didn’t care about them too much. Plus, it was just assumed the boys had poor hygiene, so it was probably their fault anyway. It wasn’t until the bedbug cockroach orgy seeped into staff quarters that I was called in.
By then, things were in a right mess. I started by inspecting all the buildings to see which areas were worst hit. It turns out Ground Zero wasn’t in the student quarters at all. Instead, it was actually a particular warden’s work shed. I can’t really say what he was doing in there, but every possible surface was covered with cockroaches and bedbug blood spatters. It was horrible! I had to call for back-up, there was no way I was doing this alone.
♫A ring a ring of roaches ♫
Of course we realised there was no way to save the shed. So we did routine search, rescue, and destroy in the other areas of the school. The shed would have to go, there was no question. We’d have to burn it down. We suggested burning the beddings and linens from the rest of the school too, so the kids helped us carry everything into the shed. We had them wear hazmat suits to keep the bedbugs from jumping onto their bodies, they loved that!
It was going to cost a lot to replace all that stuff, but given the severity of the infestation, the school board was okay with it. We cleared all the cockroach nests and removed every bedbug we could find. Whatever we couldn’t burn, we treated and disinfected – from furniture, cushions, and mattresses, to wallpaper and desk drawers. Still, burning old sheets and ratty blankets made more sense than washing them in hot water and bleach.
Once everything was in place, we doused the whole place with petrol. We had to dig a trench all around the shed, stuff it with dried grass and kindling, then soak that with petrol too. The trench would start the fire, pushing it inwards while stopping flaming roaches from fleeing to new nesting spots. This was a huge operation, so we had to call in the council firefighting teams. The torch was going to be huge, so we needed their help keeping it from spreading.
Bad boys gone good
We gave the kids the honour of lighting matches – it was a regular bonfire for them, and they whooped and hollered the entire time. Everybody loves a good fire. The firefighters were strategically positioned around the flames. They had to let the shed burn to ash, making sure every pest was dead, but they also had to be sure the fire didn’t spread. So they kind of built a cage of high pressure water spray around the inferno. Some the kids handled hoses.
Our biggest worry was that the fire might reach the power lines, but those firefighters are pros, and the kids were pretty good too. The fire flamed for hours, and when it was all over, we gave the whole team – plus some community members who had come to gawk at the flames – some tips on pest avoidance. I’m sure a lot of those kids now want to be firefighters and pest control experts. Good. It’ll keep them out of trouble, and it’s all in a day’s work.