NORTH ATTLEBORO -- Keith Bosse likens his job to the guys in neon yellow or orange hazmat suits in the background scenes of crime shows. The workers are faceless but dutiful, tasked with cleaning up the aftermath of death and the mess that can follow.

On TV, the hazmat workers just show up. There's no indication of where they came from, who called or why they're there. But on TV, Bosse said, these roles are simply characters. They take on their tasks almost mechanically and are an assumed addition to the process that follows the discovery of death.

But that's not truly the case.

Tina Bao, the chief marketing officer of Aftermath Services, a national crime scene cleanup company with a New England base off Plain Street in North Attleboro, said that after someone dies the first reaction is to call first responders, then the funeral home to remove the body. But many people don't think of what comes after: Who is responsible for cleaning up what remains?

Who is responsible for the aftermath?

"It's not a business you would know about until you need the service," Bosse said.

Or until you're in it yourself. 

Bosse knows death. And he knows the aftermath. It is his job to confront it, nearly every day. 

After five years with Aftermath Services as a crime scene technician, the 32-year-old can anticipate the extent of a cleanup -- and the methods of getting there -- almost instantly upon arrival to a scene. 

But five years ago, he wasn't even aware such a company existed.

"In criminal justice school, nothing like this was ever brought up," Bosse said.

It wasn't until a job posting advertising "crime scene cleanup" caught his eye that Bosse even considered to whom that task falls.

But what he's learned about the industry since keeps him in it, he said.

Every death, not just a homicide or suicide, leaves behind a trail. And the cleanup of death scenes is an arduous and sensitive task that requires a careful balance between compassion and pragmatism, Bosse said. 

There's the technical side of things: The cleanup itself involves several steps.

Families will call a national hotline to leave a message with the basics: Name, address, phone number and a brief description of the scene. The company services deaths of all kinds including suicides, homicides, accidents and unattended deaths where someone dies alone of natural causes.

Technicians with Aftermath are on call 24/7 and have an hour after receiving a call to get back to the company's warehouse in North Attleboro, load up the truck with supplies and head out to a job.

They service the entire New England area, so some jobs could be a few hours' drive away. And they won't know how long the job will take until they get there and can survey the scene.

Technicians with Aftermath Services don't remove bodies, but they handle nearly everything else. Cleanup starts with a quarantine where the death occurred and continues with disposal and treatment of anything that touches bodily fluids -- including floors, walls and ceilings if need be, Bosse said.

When fluids escape a person's body after a death, they fall in a gravitational manner: Someone sitting on a couch or a mattress will excrete fluids through the furniture -- but that doesn't mean the floor beneath is free of harm.

Fluids that sit for days or weeks are too entrenched in the foundation to remove chemically, so many times carpentry skills are needed to remove parts of floors or walls that are contaminated. 

Odors become seeded in other furniture, walls and floors, so the house requires a full wash with disinfectants and is sanitized and deodorized in a procedure called a biowash. Dirty air is pumped out with air scrubbers.

The technicians are required to wear full hazmat suits, multiple pairs of gloves and protective masks, and utilize specific cleaning supplies to maintain a boundary with the bacteria they're working to remove.

And all items involved in the cleanup are disposed of in hazardous waste containers, carefully.

It's mechanical work that starts to become second nature. But it speaks to the taxing and comprehensive environment of the cleanup: Many of the resources the company has on hand aren't commonplace. For a family to pick up that work would be exhausting, Bosse said.

But the compassionate side of their business isn't any easier.

Bosse said each scene varies, from families who are heavily involved and want to talk about their loved ones to those who see the services as just that -- services -- and prefer to be more removed.

"Events like this are traumatic enough," another Aftermath employee, Bill Ciaccio, said. "A big part of our job is taking care of that part of it so the family doesn't have to."

He began at the North Attleboro office in 2009 but was soon promoted to a management position at the home office in Illinois. 

"The customer expects a high level of compassion from us," the 38-year-old said. "But it's definitely morbid. You just have to keep in mind, it's our job to get the home back in order. It's our job to help them."

But there are scenes that take their toll on the technicians as well: Violent crime scenes or crimes of passion, scenarios involving children and grieving families who haven't yet processed what they've seen.

Both technicians will never forget their first call. 

Ciaccio was called out to Cape Cod for an unattended death of an older person who wasn't found for six weeks. In that time, a pungent odor and fluids had settled into the house prompting an insect infestation of the body.

"I remember being surprised at how much work there is," he said.

Similarly, Bosse arrived at an unattended death during a snowstorm in 2013.

"It was nerve-wracking until you got on site," he said. "I didn't know quite what (an unattended death) was. All sorts of things run through your head."

A few more stand out in memory for Bosse: A tablesaw suicide, several shotgun suicides and an unattended death in which a body was found decomposing in a hot tub after two weeks. In one case it took him an hour and a half just to get through the door of someone's home; the entryway and hallways were blocked by hoarded items.

In the summer, bodies decompose faster, making cleanup a more arduous task.

And holidays are tough: It's a season of many suicides, Bosse said.

"Christmas, New Year's Eve, Thanksgiving -- every one of them I've worked," he said. "At this point I've seen everything under the sun."

The North Attleboro base responds to up to 200 cases a year, with six employees on hand.

And in that time the technicians have seen a lot of death.

But similar to their TV counterparts, Bosse said, the technicians work in the background. They stay removed. Many times it's the only way to keep the job a job, and not a lifestyle.

"You have to compartmentalize it," Bosse said. "In the beginning, I was interested in the circumstances and how they died. Now, I deal only with the information that's necessary and try to distance myself from the circumstances of the death. You have to separate why you're there from what you do on your own time.

"You have to go in knowing you're there for a reason: To help out a family."

Kayla Canne can be reached at 508-236-0336, kcanne@thesunchronicle.com or on Twitter at @SCNAttleboro.

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