It’s often been said, “It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.” That statement could not ring more true for the staff members of Palmdale-based Sterile Pros.
Under the management of Chief of Operations Matthew Montague, the 14-member crew has been cleaning up the Antelope Valley for the past five years.
Montague and his staff provide cleaning services, but not the type that one might think.
They work with law enforcement, apartments/condos, hotels/motels, homeowners and landlords. Let’s just say Montague and his crew begin their work after the coroner and police are done with theirs.
Born at Edwards Air Force Base and raised in the Antelope Valley, he began a career building custom cars.
“I made good money, but I just wanted something new and he (a friend) just happened to mention it and I happened to look it up,” Montague said of Sterile Pros’ inception. “Literally, from my first job, ever, it just skyrocketed. I have never come down. My first job was a correctional officer who had shot his wife, multiple, multiple times, but she lived. Right after Christmas, it happened. I went in and cleaned her home.”
Montague started the business at the end of 2014, after seeking a business partnership with a friend. He intended to go into a water, smoke and mold removal venture with him, but he already had a partner and didn’t want another.
“He was like ‘No, I don’t want another partner,’ Montague said of his friend, ‘But you should look into this,’ the crime scene cleaning.”
He took his friend’s advice and began researching crime scene cleaning online. He discovered that he could get certified by taking courses through Amdecon in Texas, so that’s what he did.
“There’s so much training,” Montague said. “There’s three different ones. One is for respiratory protection, hazardous communication and personal protective equipment; one is meth lab decontamination and the other one is the hoarder.”
He said the training took him quite some time and he had to fly to Texas for the courses, but now there are online courses you can take, instead.
By the end of 2014, he was certified and ready to get to work.
His first order of business was to get on the Crime Scene Practitioners list for the State of California.
“You must be on that list in order to do this,” Montague said. “I got on that list and there was one other company on the list at that time, out here. I called them and their number was disconnected, so I quickly found out, I called the Crime Scene Practitioners Office, and found out it had not been updated in many years and they were in the middle of updating it.”
At that time, he said there were 652 numbers on this list and he was #508, however, once the list was cleaned up, the 652 numbers were whittled down to 100.
“I am the only company in the Antelope Valley that does this,” Montague said. “Anybody else comes from Los Angeles, Kern County, but I do 99% of the jobs in the Antelope Valley.”
His business has been lucrative, with anywhere from five to 10 jobs a week.
In fact, Sterile Pros is franchising and Montague is going to open a branch in Seattle, which will be managed by one of his current staff members, Bryan Petta.
Petta has known Montague for approximately 24 years, but has only been part of the Sterile Pros crew for four months.
Before joining Sterile Pros, Petta installed satellites in rural areas, until an accident where he fell through a roof and injured himself. As a result of his torn shoulder and hamstring, he underwent two surgeries.
“He helped me get started by paying for the school and everything like that to allow me to do this job,” Petta said. “I’m super grateful for everything he’s done to help me get a new career.”
He said the online courses take eight to 10 months to complete, but he finished them in about three-and-half months.
“I sat in Starbucks for 15 hours a day, seven days a week to get through it all,” he said. “All my training, I did on the job training through him.”
Petta spent two months as a clean technician, all the while getting on the job training.
“I got all the stuff for the guys who went into the jobs because I wasn’t allowed in yet, because I wasn’t qualified,” he said.
Another one of the Sterile Pros staff members is David Gusman, who joined the team in April 2016. He’s also an EMT and a supervisor for American Medical Response, and has been a paramedic for 25 years.
Sterile Pros takes calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from families, Child Protective Services, local law enforcement and others. They serve Los Angeles, Kern, Ventura, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and have gone all the way to Sacramento. They’ve also traveled to Arizona.
“Our boundaries now are California, Arizona and Nevada,” he said. “We go from here to there, as well.”
Montague said he tries to go on each job because he feels it’s important for the owner to be there.
“I always tell them, ‘Don’t let me work harder than you work,’” he said. “And it keeps them on fire. I have a great crew. The employees is what keeps it successful.”
He said the biggest part of his job that people need to understand, as well, is that they specialize in death and blood and biohazards.
“That’s what we specialize in,” Montague said. “If your car has a transmission problem, you don’t just take it to a mechanic, you take it to a transmission specialist. And that’s what we are. There are other companies that do smoke, fire, mold and do this on the side and they might do, I don’t know, five cases in a year. I do that sometimes in a day, in a week. It’s important to know that our services are bar none. We are the #3 company in all of California.”
But he’s quick to remind everyone that’s it’s not just crime scenes that Sterile Pros cleans up.
“We do homeless encampments, feces, so its not just death or crime or decomp,” he said. “There’s a plethora of things that could have happened, you know, people going into Albertson’s and using the restroom on the floor in an aisle-way.”
All homeowners insurance covers it, so they usually bill the insurance company.
“There’s also a victim of violent crime program here in California that will help out,” Montague said. “It’s not much money. All pricing is done off a case by case basis. There have been times when people wanted to pay cash. Obviously, I try to work around what they can and can’t afford. Our basic model is just help the community and keep the biohazard out of the Antelope Valley as much as possible. We always wear personal protective equipment, suits, booties, gloves and respirators.”
He said a big misconception is, they get phone calls from employers that have or employees that have asked them if it’s OK for their employer to have them go in and clean up a mess if they’re not trained.
“That is against OSHA standards,” Montague said. “We do provide training to different businesses so they can train their people to do it so there aren’t any OSHA violations. We also do hands-on CPR trainings. All my guys are EMTs.”
When he’s not busy running his business, he gives back to the community in the form of attending career days at various area schools.
“I go to all of them ... and talk to them about suicide prevention,” Montague said. We go to these schools to do career day, not only to show that what we do, but we also talk a lot about prevention of suicide and drug prevention and show them different scenes from hoarders and drug labs, so they can get the full gist of it.”
For more information call 661-526-0100, 844-BIO-CREW or visit www.sterilepros.com