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”.