Two Berks Fire Water Restoration team members dressed in full personal protective equipment to perform biohazard cleanup, which can included disinfection to rid a structure of the coronavirus.

Rentokil, whose North American headquarters are located in Wyomissing, calls itself “The experts in pest control.” Traditionally, pests referred to bugs and rodents, possibly other unwanted animals.

Now, the term includes infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

As many Berks County businesses attempt to shift production to life-sustaining products that protect people from coronavirus, others are offering to help fight the disease on the ground.

For Rentokil, that meant adding commercial disinfection to its list of services here in the U.S., and quite prominently. On its website, the company slogan appears alongside an artist’s rendering of COVID-19 at the top of the page.

“We want to be able to arm customers with the peace of mind of a safe and healthy work environment,” said Rentokil president and CEO John Myers in a release.

“The disinfection service will help businesses reduce risk in this uncertain time and turn their focus back on their operations.”

For Muhlenberg Township-based Berks Fire Water Restorations, the coronavirus is not only an opportunity to promote its existing, less-publicized biohazard services.

Perhaps more so, it’s a chance to educate the public on how to stay safe in an uncertain time.

“It’s not whether we do it or not,” said Lisa Lavender, chief operating officer for Berks Fire Water Restorations. “We’re happy to be a resource for people who are handling things on their own.”

What does a disinfection service entail?

If you watched any of the TV coverage of China during the early days of the outbreak, you might remember seeing people in full hazmat suits spraying or “fogging” public areas.

Depending on the type and level of exposure, that could be precisely what decontamination professionals will do in your home or business.

“All of those things are potentially part, and I say potentially because first we go with risk assessment — gather the facts, timeframes,” said Lavender. “That ultimately determines your protocol.

“But it could be a protocol that is full (personal protective equipment), containment systems, what we call professional knockdown, wiping all surfaces, then another round of disinfection. That really depends on that scope.”

Rentokil advertises the use of ultra-volume disinfection foggers that spray small disinfectant droplets to treat surfaces such as floors, handrails and doorknobs.

The spray works quickly. Pathogens become inactive in 10 minutes, and people can be back on site 30 minutes later. It’s EPA and FDA approved and hypo-allergenic.

Currently, Rentokil advertises the service for commercial clients only.

“As many of our commercial customers remain in operation to serve the public in this unprecedented time in history, they understandably have concerns about keeping their staff and customers safe,” said Myers.

“Our mission is to protect people and enhance lives, and we developed this service to help businesses disinfect safely, quickly and efficiently.”

Such a service might put minds at ease, but may not be necessary in many cases. Rather than cause a disruption or big to-do, Berks Fire Water Restoration prefers to ensure people are taking proper precautions to stay safe.

“I’m not embracing the, ‘Hey, call us, we can disinfect,'” said Lavender. “We offer it, but we’re not real out there.

“I don’t want people to have a false sense of security. All the precautionary measures are great. Fogging, sprayers, they’re great. But training team members and communicating requirements is best.”

Mind over matter

Berks Fire Water Restoration is practicing what it preaches on the topic of education over sales.

On Friday, Lavender led a free webinar for local businesses on how to prepare a team, operations and culture to operate safely and effectively in the presence of coronavirus.

“The idea is to just give guidance,” said Lavender. “We’ve helped businesses recover after disaster, so we have a lot of background in that.

“Whether it’s a month from now, I don’t know, they’re going to be operating soon, and we’re probably going to be operating in the presence of coronavirus once the curve flattens and we can resume. I wanted to give some tools, inspiration and help as operations and cultures shift.”

All businesses should be documenting proper safety procedures for employees, conducting training and reviewing those guidelines, said Lavender, talking about some of the ground she would cover in the webinar.

Though Berks Fire Water Restoration has experienced a slight increase in calls requesting disinfection services, most are just seeking answers to those types of questions.

“Which is OK,” said Lavender. “We’re here as a resource.”

Do I need a disinfection service?

Meanwhile, Rentokil — the third-largest pest control company in the U.S. — put a lot of resources into the development and promotion of its decontamination service.

It was able to launch the program seemingly out of nowhere in part because disinfection was already offered by its parent company in the U.K.

“We’ve been able to get this service off the ground in two weeks, which is unprecedented,” said Nancy Troyano, director of operations education and training. “We were able to work so quickly because we have such a dedicated group at Rentokil who logged countless hours to get this service off the ground. ”

Troyano noted Rentokil employs only trained, certified specialists to perform decontamination.

“Our main goal is to protect people, which includes our colleagues and our customers,” said Troyano. “The specialists go through various training modules, assessments and hands-on training to become certified to provide this service safely and effectively.

Berks Fire Water Restoration’s staff are also certified and actually completed a training update on containment and infectious disease in August.

However, rather than sell her expertise, Lavender is motivated to share that knowledge due to a feeling there’s too much misinformation about the coronavirus.

“It’s buyer beware,” said Lavender. “People should be careful about what they’re buying and use commonsense. Do their homework. If there’s even a question, we are here.

“There’s some scare tactics going on in the way people are marketing goods and services.”

A sweeping decontamination program like those offered by Berks Fire Water and Rentokil might offer some peace of mind, especially in the event of a confirmed exposure.

But if proper precautions aren’t followed after the fact, it won’t do a lot of good.

“The reality is no matter what you do, 10 minutes later you could potentially be contaminated if there was a human contact,” said Lavender. “It’s important to understand that. Yes, the more you are wiping, the less potential there is, but it shouldn’t give a false sense of security.”

The rule of thumb is be safe, take all of the necessary precautions — and don’t be afraid to ask for help

“We’re gonna get through this,” said Lavender. “I believe that. I wake up thinking positively, and I want to be able to help other businesses.”

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