I am NOT an exterminator!

A prominent article in the latest issue of PCT magazine titled “I Am An Exterminator!” drew my attention. It had to have been written by one of those great old timers in the industry – with old ideas that still are at the core of what’s wrong with the pest control industry. Fortunately, there are new and better voices representing the pest control industry.

First, to be honest, I understand where he is coming from. Having pride in one’s profession is paramount if you are going to do a good job of it. Rightly, he describes his pride in “manning the walls in the war for public health.” I understand that many people want us to “just kill the bugs.” I certainly agree, especially in our profession, that once in a while – at least once a day – you have to laugh at yourself, with your team – share a few laughs with your customers. The work can get to you and so its’ vital to keep it light and loose. Work should be fun.

But that is where our agreement ends.

The author is absolutely right when he says that “terms mean things. Terms give impressions.” And that is why this article takes the pest control profession totally in the wrong direction.

Let me throw out a few questions.

Have we accomplished our exterminator mission with the “spray and go?”
Have we accomplished our exterminator mission with the throw bait and go?
Have we accomplished our exterminator mission with “the bomb” and then yet another bomb?”
Have we accomplished our exterminator mission with “term____ everything” (fill in the product) – including bees.
Have we accomplished our exterminator mission with the fumigation that could have been spot treated?
Have we accomplished our exterminator mission with “just dust everywhere.”
Have we accomplished our exterminator mission if our treatments effect as many non-targets as targets? Or is that just collateral damage?

Again, with respect for the PCT author, as an industry leader, I trust that he is one of the better exterminators.

If we killed every bug on a property, does that alone mean that we accomplished our goal as exterminators? Perhaps, if like some old timers in the industry – you see yourself as just that and no more.

Do you wish that your profession be seen as little more than a hired gun? In the ganglands and in the security industry, “hired guns” know how to kill, but even they sometimes miss to the detriment of innocent bystanders. They certainly are not considered the “brains of the outfit,” and even if they were, they would simply be the brains of a killing machine.

Being Jewish, the term exterminator has always had a negative connotation for me. In war, exterminators are so ruthless that they take pride in exterminating people. They quite openly advocate the extermination of populations. The “cockrooach Tutsi” in Uganda could be and were exterminated by the millions like roaches after an propaganda campaign dehumanizing them. There is a very interesting book called Insectopia, by High Raffles, that delves into a subject he calls insectification, whereby people are dehumanized to the level of insects, at which point extermination is the inevitable outcome.

Consider our own military. Overall, the U.S. army has been a great social transformer for the good of mankind in both foreign and domestic fields. At its’ worst, the reputation of the U.S. military has been severely tarnished, destroying military campaigns that had a purpose. One of the most publicized massacres by the U.S. Army occurred at My Lai when a village of “gooks” was exterminated. This was one of the turning points for the American public against the war in Vietnam. (I wish to make it absolutely clear here that I am a strong advocate for the U.S. military and just recently rebutted on Facebook a rediculous attempt of someone who tried to justify 9-11 with “equal time for American attrocities – My Lai).” Here, I want to drive home that while American soldiers are trained to kill when necessary and they know “collateral damage” occurs, our modern army is absolutely trained to respect the local population, their land and anything else that is a source of pride, ergo their environment.

I contend that even soldiers who are trained to kill people, the good soldiers, are not proud to have killed. They may be giddy happy that the other guy died and not them, but are they happy or proud of the kill? No. They are proud that they accomplished a mission. And the mission was not to kill. It was to destroy an enemy and win over the civilian population. In World War I, tens of millions of people were killed on both sides and we defeated Germany temporarily – but we did not win over the enemy. It took World War II to defeat the idea of German supremacy and fascism. We won over the public and now have Germany as a trusted ally in most issues in the world of public opinion.

We know many nations and armies in history dedicated to extermination. Ours is one that ultimately is focused on winning the peace by winning over the population. Exterminators cannot make that happen.

In our field of pest control, the equivalent of “collateral damage” are the “non-targets.” This is a serious concern – from beneficial species, to pets, people and our environmental health. This collateral damage can cause much more severe pain than the original problem if the exterminator is not educated, focused or sensitive enough to consider all ramifications. That is where regulators and environmentalists have a critical role that cannot be accomplished solely within the industry. Their role is an absolute necessity. There must be external checks and balances on our profession, as any other. To not have a deep respect for these organizations is foolhardy and arrogant. The author’s distain for these functions and the front and center positioning of this mentality by PCT speaks to backward macho thinking attitudes that still pervade much of the industry.

From a purely business standpoint, just as the author sites customers who shout “Just kill the damn bugs!,” I can site many accounts – landscape – residential – commercial – that have been picked up, satisfied accounts without pests – who have taken a green pest control approach. A green pest control approach does not mean you do not kill the bugs. It means that you have a broad based plan that includes the ramifications of what you do and that the plan has points that determine the appropriate level of treatment.

I can relate to what the author says about controlling pests and IPM – “which does not exist in structural pest control.” I.P.M. originated in the agricultural arena where you can’t expect to have 100% control of a pest without severe over application with noticable harmful effects on our food supply and water resources. In the structural pest control arena the customer often has “zero tolerance” for pests. Monitors and control levels can be too little, too late.

But I would contend that is incorrect. Even this PCT contributing author would have to agree that his very own house has insects and arachnids – in the walls, attic, sub-area and dare I say – in his living space. He doesn’t think of them as pests precisely because they are TOLERABLE. Some companies have used a smart marketing tool of selling “pest tubes” to kill those wall void pests that even the author would likely consider overkill and wasted money. One pest control technician I interviewed a long time ago who did this work for several years said that the pest tubes were often clogged and the application pointless.

Residential and commercial customers do have different tolerance levels. That is part of what allows them to choose different service intervals. They also have different tolerance levels related to the price they are willing to pay for service and this indirectly translates back into expectations of when they can expect the pest control technician to inspect and treat.

ZERO TOLERANCE IS DANGEROUS. The EXTERMINATOR who hears a customer shout about a pest problem gets out his zero tolerance toolset, his glug glug approach to measuring, his double and triple aerosols and bombs away. A few years ago I picked up a large senior care facility from one of the big boys in the industry because they took the super-duper exterminator approach, spraying everything in the kitchen – poisoning the food and sickening the patients. Here had been a crew of really bad exterminators – that I believe were not representative of this prominent commercial pest control company.

Typically, bad exterminators do not get better with experience. They get worse! Anyone who has chosen to hire candidates new to the profession rather than hiring an “experienced exterminator with bad habits” knows this to be true. As an industry, we cannot afford to visualize ourselves as exterminators. This will severely damage our profession and public health.

As the author of “I AM an Exterminator!” states, “words have meaning.”

Feel free to review how Hearts Pest Management brands as “A Different Exterminator”.

13 Responses to I am NOT an exterminator!

  1. Times change and so must we, just after I bought my company I changed the word exterminating to pest management. I thought it was appropriate and the right time to do so. I’m a Professional and I hope I project that into my business. I have often said I don’t really care what they call me, as long as they call me. But it is important for us the “Pest Management Industry” to continue to put our best foot forward and lead the charge to professionalism. You can always see that at training conferences, there are many that are there to learn and make themselves and the industry shine. There are shows that do “The Skunk Whisperer and Verminator’s” and a few that don’t. We are the change, plain and simple.Great info and thanks for bringing it to light and adding your opinion.

  2. Gerry says:

    Keith, thank you so much for sharing as well and for your advocacy for the continued forward progression of our industry.

    I love the name of my pest control company, Hearts Pest Management. It fits very well with the new wave of pest control. But, I wish now that the name of the company was Hearts Pest Control as so many more people on the internet search on the term “pest control.” Only the academics would search on “pest management.” It makes it much harder to rank well where it counts. … and yes, I even have this page on the term exterminator.

    Anything new and exciting at CallProBest? We are very busy getting ready for the new season. Lots of regulatory and insurance renewals, new hires and territory additions. We will also dabble this year in lawn and turf.

    Best wishes for a great 2012.


  3. Rose Weitz says:

    I love this column. It really puts pest management in a broader context,and makes its point very well.


  4. Gerry says:

    Thanks Rose, your approval means a lot to me. I know that it is based on much more than the love of a sister, but also from the critical perspective of a sociology professor.

    I’m proud to be that critical voice within the pest control industry to help drive the pest control profession into the future.

  5. […] 44. Hearts Consulting Group offers pest control companies a resource for improving their business. Their posts detail changes in the industry as well as advice for refining practices. Popular Post: I am NOT an exterminator! […]

  6. […] 44. Hearts Consulting Group offers pest control companies a resource for improving their business. Their posts detail changes in the industry as well as advice for refining practices. Popular Post: I am NOT an exterminator! […]

  7. […] 44. Hearts Consulting Group offers pest control companies a resource for improving their business. Their posts detail changes in the industry as well as advice for refining practices. Popular Post: I am NOT an exterminator! […]

  8. Jerry says:

    Maybe I’m missing something because I haven’t read the article at the ‘root of the situation’. (The PCT article Why I Hate being called an exterminator) But to be honest, it seems that Rich made a sensible argument but I don’t make the connection with all you are implying. It doesn’t seem that he went that far at all.

  9. Gerry says:

    Jerry, as always, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this blog.

    Rich Kozlovich makes reference to a Chicago syndicated collumnist and pest control customer, “he had some personal experience with the pest control industry and he wrote an article about this experience and about a guy who just killed bugs! That was what they hired him for and that is what they wanted. No fancy names, no fancy treatments, no fancy policies. The “blond” — as he referred to his wife — tried that approach and it didn’t work. He hired the guy around the corner who just killed bugs. He was called an exterminator!”

    Yes, we are there to kill the bugs, but if you really think about it, our primary goal is to preserve health. Eliminating bugs may be our specialty, but if our focus is on the bugs and not on the people involved with the bugs we may do more harm than good. If our focus was the bugs and that was good enough, than shouldn’t we get DDT back? If the focus is on the bug and not the people, we will see more and more techs who do the wrong thing. If someone calls us to kill ants and we kill bees accidentally, it’s ok. If we kill the ants and in the process spill chemical down a drain it is ok – without thought for our water supply. After all, someone else is responsible for keeping our oceans and streams clean.

    “We accept the idea that we are not supposed to kill bugs, but control them with “green” pest control or Integrated Pest Management — neither of which exists in structural pest control.”

    I beg to differ with Rich Kozlovich. Our team does this type of work every day, helping people to keep clean and organized yards and homes that are less condusive to pest invasions. And we do have many green products that work as well as the pyrethroids with far less human toxicity.

    “Is it any wonder that we strive so diligently to be found acceptable to regulators and environmental activists in order to be patted on our little heads like little children with token acceptance”

    Rich should have a bit more respect for environmentalists and regulators. Is “extermination” the only industry that should not have external oversight? Anyone involved in killing things should have external oversight. Jerry, we put tools and products in the hands of workers … and owners who often have little respect for life and ask them to go around killing things. It’s no wonder that they do damage they can’t see and don’t understand and it takes regulators and environmentalists to come in back of us to check that we are not doing more harm than good.

    Jerry, I hope you are having a good year. Keep up the great blogging.

  10. Jerry says:

    I guess what I missed was the original article which would have been good to read –pct search wouldn’t pull it up and I don’t keep magazine copies after the pile gets too high.
    But what I still don’t get, & perhaps I’m reading into it.


    Is Rich or other 30 year vets of the industry who don’t subscribe to green pest control by default old, out of touch and the indiscriminate killers you describe? Do they not consider the ramifications of placing products (chemicals) whose name ends in ‘cide.’? Are they not educated? Do they all ‘spray & go? Are they really comparable to the atrocities you’ve linked to? Is this what the “new & better” voice of the industry says?

    As far as ‘external oversight.’ Don’t you mean the government? It seems to me for example; that just to get a pesticide to the market is a multi year & grueling expensive process all under the watchful eye of our ‘external overseers.’ The entire industry is policed already. Laws, fines, penalties or even cease & desist shut downs of businesses can & do take place for those rogue or non compliant operators. The overwhelming majority of us however, need no such action. We obey the laws and are responsible in what we do. Is it ‘oversight’ you want or a mandated change?

  11. Gerry says:

    Jerry, were you able to link to it from my post. You should be able to go to Rich’s ful article.

  12. Gerry says:

    Good points.

    There are many people who would do the right thing for the environment, their workers and themselves without oversight. But it is oversight, not much of anything within the industry, that led to changes protecting us. Perhaps Rich is the one guy in the industry who does everything right, but my sense is, given his disregard of regulators and environmentalists, that he probably is doing much that is undesirable for the larger picture, the “do no harm” principle.

    I’ll right a separate article on this topic, but let me tell you a quick story. I got a call the other day from a friend in Florida. Isn’t that your state? He was having an ant invasion. He said he’d call his tech, but they gave him a new one because his old tech had died (in his mid-50’s). So I asked him to check the list of chemicals attached to the service slip. (I would be surprised if you don’t need to list them in FLorida). My friend said that the service slip did not list the chemicals used and going back, he realized that they never listed chemicals. My response – “I bet he didn’t use a respirator either!” My friend, “That’s right! I used to tell the guy he should be wearing a respirator but he always said he’d be ok.” My response, “We’ll never know, but I’m not surprised he died with chronic repiratory damage from pesticides” … along with whatever other poor habits he had.

    Here in San Diego, the termite companies actually voted to increase the fees per fumigation. Yes, they volunarily decided to tax themselves! Why? They wanted the county to have another termite regulatory inspector. Why? They wanted more oversight of the “bad termite companies” that were violating all the rules … and perhaps in so doing undercut the competition that was following the rules.

    As far as government, we are in a whole different discussion. I don’t believe in a bulky government. We are having that debate now nationally. Yes, it stifles commercial growth. But, for example, it is regulation – government regulation – that has given us cleaner air – not the auto industry and not simply customer demand for a cleaner emissions vehicle. My father, rest his soul, was the chief designer for an nationally known auto parts company back in the 60’s. He went to his management explaining that under certain conditions the carborator they had designed could explode. His management refused to change the design, saying that the design change would add what my dad thought was a token amount to the cost of each part. Within a short period of time he had to defend the company against a lawsuit where the part exploded in the car owner’s face.

    Cigarettes – they remain legal – but regulation has pushed them out of the cigarette dispensing machines and off the TV. As a 13 year old, I was too chicken to go up to a counter to ask for cigarettes, but it was very easy and tempting to go to a cigarette dispensing machine.

    I’m glad we have regulations – and yes, that means I’m glad we have a government. I’m glad we have police and army that are not broke. I’m glad we have second amendment rights to own a gun, even though I don’t carry.

    There’d be a lot fewer libertarians if we lived in the society they wished for. We should all be careful what we wish for, because at the extremes they can be quite nightmarish. That goes for environmentalists and anti-environmentalists, government and non-government, regulation and a regulation free environment.

    I get frustrated with the regulatory environment here in California. Some things are overdone. But I remember when I first moved to California and I no longer had to say, “Can I have a seat in the no smoking section?” I thought I arrived in heaven! Most of our industry regulations are on the books to protect the public and workers. Here, many of the regulations don’t apply to owners because the state doesn’t care if you get yourself sick, but they don’t want you to get your worker’s sick. A pest control operator doesn’t need to wear a respirator, but he better have his staff wearing respirators!

    I hope this helps to explain where I’m coming from.

  13. […] 44. Hearts Consulting Group offers pest control companies a resource for improving their business. Their posts detail changes in the industry as well as advice for refining practices. Popular Post: I am NOT an exterminator! […]

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