Biotrauma Recognized by Chamber of Commerce

Biotrauma Inc, a company that provides biohazzard cleaning services, was named the small business of the month in June 2012 by the Gainesville GA Chamber of Commerce.

Go Biotrauma!

Biotrauma trains deploying Marines on Biohazard Cleanup

Thursday June 18, 2009 – Biotrauma officer Benjamin Lichtenwalner and Crew Supervisor David Walker visited the Marines of PRP (Personnel Recovery and Processing) to talk about procedural improvements in the areas of decontamination, biohazard cleanup, and PPE usage for those Marines performing mortuary affairs duties overseas.

Classes were held on June 18th, 2009 which also gave Marines insight into structural decontamination, of which they were unaccustomed to. PRP Marines typically search for, recover, transport, and document the remains of fallen servicemen overseas, but sometimes are also called to serve in a cleanup capacity. Given their adaptive nature, Biotrauma thoguht it wise to share their knowledge on structural cleanup procedures, should the Marines be asked to perform that sort of work.

Biotrauma gives many thanks to their Marine counterparts, as we had our start in the Corps performing biohazard cleanup. We will continue to assist in the training of new Marines, and ultimately safeguarding our troops’ physical and psychological well being.

Solemn Duty

Tuesday September 01, 2009 – SOLEMN DUTY
Crime scene cleanup crew helps families in dark times It would be easy to call two former Marines, who learned their grisly trade on the battlefields of Iraq, the grim
reaper’s cleanup crew. But they see their work in an entirely different light. Benjamin Lichtenwalner and Ryan Sawyer view Biotrauma, the company they formed in the wake of war, as bringing light itself into the very darkest of circumstances. “This is definitely a calling, a chance for us to help people though dark times,” Lichtenwalner
said. “We are a business. We do want to feed our families, but there is also a sense
of obligation to help people in the toughest moments.”
Lichtenwalner and Sawyer formed Biotrauma, based in Georgia, three years ago after
returning from Iraq, where it was their duty to collect and care for fallen fellow warriors. They went to work cleansing the scenes of crimes, suicides and other grim incidents of death after realizing that in most cases, families of the dead were left cleaning up the remains themselves. The statistics are as grim as the work they
do. Every day in Georgia alone there are three suicides, more than a 1,000 per year, 70 percent of which are carried out by firearm. There are 650 homicides a year. There are even more natural deaths that turn into decompositions
because others don’t realize the person has passed away, Lichtenwalner said.
“Out of all this, 80 percent of families will clean up themselves. There’s no reason someone should have to traumatize themselves again like that,” Lichtenwalner said.
Although others may shudder at the thought of it, both Lichtenwalner and Sawyer
say the work is more honor than horror, more privilege than pain. “I’m a man of faith. I am a believer,” Sawyer said. “Now, with the way our business is running and the amount of families we’re helping every day, I know without a doubt the man upstairs definitely had a plan.”
It was a plan they never would have made themselves. Lichtenwalner had joined the
Marine Corps Reserve to be a cook. Sawyer was a truck driver. But when their unit got
orders for Iraq, both were “voluntold” to report for training in Mortuary Affairs. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a shock,” said Sawyer, who was a fraternity pledge, beer in hand, when his platoon sergeant called with the news. “We were trained in a matter of weeks, and then we were on our way downrange,” Lichtenwalner said. “I didn’t ask for the job, but through doing it we came to see how important it was in helping bring closure.” No training could fully prepare them for the work they do. “Somehow you find a way to survive it. Everyone is different in terms of how they deal with it,”
Lichtenwalner said. “I call it the switch. You flip the switch when you go to work. Like a doctor, you do what you have to do, but then you go home and you have a heart again.”
The two soon realized there was more to their job than the clinical collection and processing of remains. Providing a ready ear and warm cup of coffee to unit escorts — usually a friend of the fallen tasked with accompanying the body home — wasn’t in any standard operating manual, but it became as much a part of what they did as anything else. “Just being there with them was fulfilling a need, but it also helped us learn how to speak with people in these incredibly emotional circumstances,” Lichtenwalner said. Their experiences have helped tailor their
business approach, as well. “There are some in this line of work who will schedule a cleanup several days out, ”Sawyer said. “That’s just unacceptable. We always respond immediately. I don’t care if it’s Christmas Eve — and we’ve handled
cases on Christmas Eve — we’re going to be there.” And they’ll be there until the job is done. “There’s no such thing as a two-day job,” Lichtenwalner said. “Everything we do goes back to something we learned in the Corps: So, it doesn’t matter if it takes 15 hours, you stay until the mission is done.” It’s the same reason their company vehicles don’t have any identifying markings and why they suit up in their hazardous-material suits out of public view. “The family doesn’t need that kind of circus in their yard,” Sawyer said.
Lichtenwalner and Sawyer started laying the groundwork for their business while they
were in Iraq, doing online research, getting training lined up and preparing paperwork for licenses as well as putting together the company Web site.
They also put aside about $16,000 as starting capital. Although they had to work
full-time jobs in the beginning, within a few months, Biotrauma was getting its first calls. Less than three years later, they now have five full-time employees and five more parttime technicians. Last year, the company did $500,000 in business.
“We’re putting everything we make back into the company,” said Lichtenwalner, who sees Biotrauma at the forefront of a new industry. “A hundred years ago, you didn’t have funeral directors. This is just the next logical step. If we can grow this as big as we can, ultimately we are elevating quality of life by freeing people up from a terrible burden.”
— Jon R. Anderson

Bringing Out the Dead

Friday October 23, 2009 – “As far as the eye could see, there were body parts,” Lichtenwalner recalls. “Everything from little pieces to entire torsos.”

As a member of the Marines’ mortuary-affairs unit, he was assigned to scrub the outdoor area, both for sanitary purposes and to maintain morale. “Everything had to be taken up,” he says. “What if a fallen serviceman’s buddy came rolling through, leaned over to tie his boot and saw something that we missed?”

Lichtenwalner, 28, and his partner, Ryan Sawyer, 25, became intimately familiar with death. It was their job to prepare the bodies of their late comrades for their final ride home. This experience also helped inspire Biotrauma, the crime-scene cleanup business they started in Gainesville, Ga., in 2006, soon after their discharge from the Marines.

Whether it’s a homicide, a suicide, an accident or a death by natural causes, the company restores a scene to its pre-incident appearance after the authorities have finished their investigations. Lichtenwalner and Sawyer offer customers turnkey service — everything from cleaning, construction repair and insurance claim processing to a crying shoulder.

“Often these families have been through a lot,” Lichtenwalner says. “It’s our duty to help them attain closure.”

The death business
Biotrauma has experienced rapid growth, much of it during the recent recession. In its first year, sales totaled $90,000; by 2007 they had reached $225,000. Last year the company posted $498,000 in revenues.

“This year we’re looking to do way better,” Lichtenwalner says. To that end, Sawyer, the company’s president, spends his days calling on coroners and other industry professionals, while Lichtenwalner, Biotrauma’s vice president, puts together a monthly newsletter promoting their services.

With five full-time employees and a few part-timers, Biotrauma handles two to three cases a week. (The cost of a job ranges from $1,000 to $6,000.) The majority are suicides from firearms, the most common form of violent death. Each year there are approximately 30,000 suicides nationally, compared with 17,000 murders, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There are three suicides each day in Georgia alone, data from the state’s Department of Human Resources show.

“If we can help just some of those families,” Lichtenwalner says, “we’ll be doing our job.”

Deaths in the home often result in horrifying and unsanitary scenes. And with the spread of HIV and other bloodborne diseases, sanitizing living spaces after a person dies has taken on a serious public-health dimension. Despite these concerns, no governing organization exists to license or regulate such businesses. (There is, however, a nonprofit trade group of trauma scene professionals, the American Bio-Recovery Association, which currently has 321 firms as members nationwide.)

The business of sanitizing crime scenes also attracts its share of macabre personalities, says Michael J. Tillman, who founded a Dallas-based crime-cleanup firm in 1999 and now holds training seminars on the subject.

“A lot of people get into this business because they want to talk about the terrible, gross things they see and post stuff on the Internet,” he says.

The idea for Biotrauma came when the founders heard about a fellow Marine who had started providing crime-cleanup services on a freelance basis after returning from Iraq. Based on their war experiences, Lichtenwalner and Sawyer figured they could bring a level of professionalism to the industry, focusing on psychological remedies as much as physical ones. “A lot of companies just go into a house and cut out some carpet and wall and hand the family a bill,” says Lichtenwalner.

Knowing that family members don’t want to see reminders of a tragedy in their home, Biotrauma removes all trace of the death — even painting the room where the victim died a different color. They also leave each client a copy of Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul, by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.

Biotrauma prides itself on discretion. Cleanup teams show up in unmarked trucks with trailers attached. “We could be the lawn service,” Sawyer says. Though the technicians arrive wearing blue biohazard suits and bearing industrial-strength disinfectant, they try not to attract attention from neighbors.

Andrew Fee Jr., a police officer in Forsyth County, Ga., appreciated Biotrauma’s gentle touch when his 80-year-old father died of a heart attack. The elder Fee lived alone and had been dead for 10 or 11 days when his son discovered the body. But even though Officer Fee was accustomed to seeing dead bodies in his line of work, he didn’t want to be on the scene for the removal of his father’s remains. An assistant to the coroner recommended Biotrauma.

“They were extremely professional,” Fee recalls. “They coordinated the decontamination of the property by the next day.” Biotrauma also hired contractors to repair a wall and the floor and install new linoleum. Simultaneously, the firm submitted a claim to the deceased’s insurance company to cover its charges.

“I didn’t have to do anything other than sign the documents,” says Fee.

‘No man left behind’
Neither partner seemed destined to start a business. Missouri native Lichtenwalner joined the Marines in 2001, after doing “more sleeping than studying” in high school. Sawyer, the tall, preppy scion of a prominent family in Gainesville, joined the Corps to make a fresh start after partying his way through school. Neither expected to work in mortuary affairs after boot camp. When informed of the assignment by his platoon sergeant, Sawyer complained that he had joined the Marines to drive trucks. “You’ll be driving,” the sergeant replied. “Just with dead people in the back.”

Assigned to the same mortuary unit, the pair became fast friends. After a few months in Iraq, they realized their new skills were marketable. “We actually kicked off our first Web site from overseas,” says Lichtenwalner. “The base had this Internet center where you could research stuff.” The two returned home in September 2005 and started Biotrauma the following January.

Both founders say the Marines provided little emotional guidance on handling death. But the armed forces have a long tradition of treating fallen comrades with dignity. Sawyer’s team would gather each service member’s personal effects and double-bag them with the remains. They placed each corpse in a metal transfer case, draped it with an American flag and said a short prayer before loading it onto a truck headed for the airport. Speed was important, but so were honor and respect.

“America’s promise to its military is ‘No man left behind,'” Sawyer says. “At Biotrauma we adopted that same attitude.”

Biotrauma’s headquarters are housed in a one-story brick building at the Manufacturing Development Center, a business incubator run by Lanier Technical College. Carroll Turner, MDC’s CEO, says giving space to Biotrauma was a no-brainer, even though it’s not a manufacturing concern.

“They had the passion that’s required to be an entrepreneur,” Turner says. “With their military training, they look at this as a service to families, more of a calling than a job. That sets them apart.”

So do their experiences. Many soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have been counseled for post-traumatic stress disorder, yet Lichtenwalner and Sawyer have maintained their poise while constantly surrounded by death. “Growing up, I always had a weak stomach,” says Sawyer. “But Marines are trained to adapt and overcome.” Adds Lichtenwalner: “We were desensitized to the work, just like a doctor is.”

The next step for Biotrauma, they say, is to recruit investors and expand to other states. But Tillman, whose firm attempted a similar ramp-up a few years ago, is skeptical. Part of the problem, he says, is that law enforcement officials are often prohibited from passing along contact information about for-profit businesses such as Biotrauma. And it’s not easy to sell any business associated with death. “The public doesn’t want to hear about us,” Tillman says. “They want to think about good things, not bad things.”

But the founders of Biotrauma are convinced their business is scalable. They’re currently planning a handful of owner-operator satellites within driving distance of Gainesville.

“What we’re dealing with is a public that doesn’t know there are professional services that do what we do,” says Sawyer.

Lichtenwalner believes his and Sawyer’s experience and attitude give them an edge. “We never set parameters on what we will or won’t do,” he says. “Whatever it takes to get the job done — we share those values with the Marine Corps.”

Biotrauma featured in the Island Packet

Thursday April 16, 2009 – Biotrauma was featured in the Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette today – a Parris Island area paper. The article was entitled “Cleanup with Care” by Patrick Donohue.

Biotrauma performs trauma scene cleanup and restoration services in the homes of families after they’ve experience a homicide, suicide, or natural death in the home. We deal with insurance and subcontractors to get residences back up to speed, without the hassle.

Biotrauma featured in the Anderson Independent Mail

Monday April 27, 2009 – Biotrauma was featured in the Anderson Independent Mail (Anderson, SC) Sunday April 26th, 2009. AIM’s Rick Spruill wrote the piece entitled “Former Marines build unusual business”.

Biotrauma, Inc. is a cleanup service for families who have experienced a traumatic incident in the home such as a homicide, suicide, or natural death. If you or someone you know needs help, be sure to call us immediately for our cost-free services.

Biotrauma featured in the Dow Jones

Thursday May 07, 2009 – Al Lews of the Dow-Jones newswire did a feature on Biotrauma about our biohazard cleanup services and the closure that we provide for families.

Biotrauma is a crime scene cleaning service for families who have experienced a tragedy in the home. We offer compassionate service for those in need.

Biotrauma featured in the Washington Times

Wednesday March 18, 2009

The Washington Times wrote about Biotrauma and our crime scene cleaning services, Wednesday 3/18/2009. The piece was entitled “Battle-trained Cleanup Team” authored by Christian Toto.

Biotrauma, Inc. in TIME Magazine

Tuesday March 24, 2009

Tuesday, March 24th 2009 Biotrauma, Inc. was featured in TIME Magazine’s The article was authored by Molly Stephey entitled “Cleaning Up Death At War — and At Home” and was presented in a Question/Answer format.

CNBC features Biotrauma – Real Sunshine Cleaners

Sunday March 29, 2009 – CNBC wrote a story on Biotrauma entitled “Two Amazing Marines” which was featured on Jane Well’s “Funny Business” blog 3/27/09. The piece has some good non-graphic video of a real job, to include an interview with Ben Lichtenwalner and Ryan Sawyer.

Biotrauma, Inc. (Real Sunshine Cleaners) performs crime scene cleanup compassionately for traumatized families and property owners.

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