In the crime scene cleanup industry, the requirements of extreme manual labor, long hours and frequent travel can sometimes overshadow the equally important requirement for compassion, empathy and respect for the client. Although the majority of crime scene cleaners are male, it is by no means a “Boys Only Club.”
Danielle Ahlstrom is no stranger to being outnumbered by men at work. Having studied criminal justice and law enforcement, as well as completing SWAT and first responder training, she’s also no stranger to hard work. Danielle excels in her role at Aftermath Services Crime Scene Cleanup as a Field Supervisor because she has what it takes to meet and exceed all of the job’s requirements.
Breaking the Family Business Mold
While studying criminal justice and law enforcement in Rochester, Minnesota, Danielle participated in a voluntary internship with the Minnesota Department of Correction where she helped with the Intensive Supervised Release Program (ISR). She worked with level four sex offenders throughout various phases of ISR. She completed both court room and SWAT training, which were offered only to those who excel in the program.
Danielle was in line to take over her family’s in-home hospice care business, which was started by her grandparents. Danielle had been raised around the in-home care environment, and had completed both EMT and first responder training in order to work as an in-home care provider. She was in the process of being licensed when an Aftermath employee who was opening a new location near Rochester contacted her.
“I was hesitant at first, but after learning more about Aftermath, I had to take the opportunity.”
Danielle made the decision to transition from assisting those in the later stages of life, to assisting families who had experienced the loss of a loved one.
Not Just One of the Boys, but One of the Best
A week after her interview, Danielle began her career with Aftermath as a Field Technician, traveling to job sites to assist in the biohazard cleanup process. Within six months, she was promoted to Supervisor.
Danielle credits her well-roundedness and lack of judgment for her success, stressing the importance of a balance between compassion and professionalism in communicating with clients on the job.
“Every job is different; you are going to encounter different circumstances and living situations. You have to have an understanding that everyone has their own battles and struggles, and it is up to you to find a balance between sympathy and empathy in order to best serve the client.”
As a female in a male-dominated industry, Danielle works with all male technicians on her current crew. She was nervous in the beginning of her career about not being as respected or taken as seriously by coworkers or clients.
“When we pull up on a job site, clients will often start walking up to one the guys on my team. It’s sometimes a shock factor to those expecting a male Supervisor, but I have received many compliments on the way I explain the process to customers and on my professionalism.”
Danielle also pointed out that her job is labor intensive, and she had to work hard to prove that she could keep up with the guys. Her work ethic has earned her respect not only from her crew, but throughout the entire company.
What it takes to be a Crew Member
As Supervisor, Danielle conducts interviews with potential new members of her team. The biggest trait she looks for in a candidate? Reliability.
“You have to be on call to answer your phone, and you have to be urgent about things. It takes a special kind of person to be able to leave a birthday party or family get together, but it’s part of the commitment to the company. I often think of it in terms of: If you were in that position, how would you want a company to react?”
As a Supervisor, Danielle travels frequently to job sites across the Minnesota region. Honoring a 45 minute response time means always being readily available to pick up and go. As Supervisor, Danielle is the sole point-of-contact for the client, and is responsible for explaining the biohazard cleanup process in detail.
Danielle echoes what Operations Safety/Compliance Manager Andrew Whitmarsh stressed in his BioTales interview: Aftermath is not CSI.
“We do work with law enforcement and coroners, but we arrive on scene after the body has been removed. We have to wait until the scene is released, and then we are there to assist the family in remediating the biohazard situation.”
Far Beyond the Typical Work Incentives
Although a career in biohazard cleanup is demanding both mentally and physically, it is equally as rewarding. Danielle says her career with Aftermath has allowed her to travel to places across the country, but more importantly, touch the lives of those she works with in an indescribable way.
“You have to sacrifice to gain something. With this job, we often sacrifice parts of our personal lives, but at the end of the day, what we’re doing is making a difference. If you can walk away and feel good about what you’ve done, it makes the job easier. The biggest benefit is walking away from a job and feeling good about the work we’ve done and how we’ve helped the family.”