Monday, October 14, 2019

Crime Scene Clean Up - Dead Bodies

We are in the midst of a series of posts on crime scenes.
Today we will look a bit at the biohazards involved.
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On the most recent episode of the FightWrite Podcast we looked at the stages of decomposition chronologically. We also looked at the health hazards of having a corpse around. According to the World Health Organization, the health risk of a corpse is not as bad as you might think. If a person died without an infectious disease, their body isn't so much of a biohazard. If that is the case, then why are human bodily fluids labeled a health hazard? Well, let's see...


Bodily fluids are fluids produced by the body from the cerebrospinal fluid around your brain to the sweat on your feet and everything in between. In and of themselves they are not hazardous. It is the pathogens they could carry that are. 

Bodily fluids, even from the deceased can transmit pathogens. Here are some of those pathogens as well as  how long they can survive outside the body.

Cholera - feces - 50 days, glass - a month, a coin - week, soil and dust - 16 days, fingertips - 1- 2 hours
Ebola - 6 days.
E coli -  1-4 hours
Hepatitis B - a week
Hepatitis C - four days
HIV - 5-6 days in dried blood, longer in air tight container such as a syringe
Lassa Fever (Hemorrhagic Fever) - 1 hour
Mycobacterium Tuberculosis - 6 months
Rotavirus - dry surface - 10 days, wet surface - several weeks
Salmonella - four hours
Staphylococcus Aureus (causes MRSA) - weeks
Shigella - on food for up to 10 days (think hand to food transmission)
Typhoid/Paratyphoid Fever - months 

(All that just makes me want to wash my hands.)


In the podcast on decomposition, we learned that microorganisms inside the body break it down to basically a liquid state. But, those microorganisms aren't dangerous. And, the liquid state of the human body isn't either assuming that the person does not have an infectious disease such as listed above. 

Basically, a decomposing body is more of a stink problem than health problem. And, technically, that stink could kill you, but you'd have to have a lot of it. According to the Washington City Paper:

A dead body gives of a variety of gases as it decays. Two of them, aptly named cadaverine and putrescine, are primarily responsible for "dead body smell," and are produced mainly during the bloat and putrefaction stage of decomposition. The two chemicals are toxic, but only in large amounts; a 200-pound individual could ingest more than a quarter pound of either without getting a lethal dose. 


The view of dead bodies is, like a whole lot of things, a matter of culture. In some cultures, they just aren't that big of a deal. Here is a National Geographic video of an Indonesian culture that lives with dead bodies for weeks - emphasis on GRAPHIC there. You will see very dead bodies as well as an animal sacrifice (1:57 - 2:07). You've been warned. (I'm so sorry about that thumbnail. šŸ˜† )

All right then, that's it for this post. In the next round we will look closer at bio clean up. Until then, get blood on your pages.

Here's a little factoid about me. I used to do Christian missions work in Honduras. Beautiful country, beautiful people. I stayed at El Rancho ParaĆ­so near San Pedro Sula. A woman in a nearby village died and our ranch made a wooden casket for her. Supplies were not in abundance so they didn't want to use more than needed. The deceased was about my size so I was the model for that casket. They drew it around me and I hopped in an out as needed until its assigned inhabitant took her place. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Crime Scenes: Call to Clean-Up, Pt 2 Dispatch, EMS, FD, PD

In our last post in this series we looked at how to dial emergency around the world. Today we will look at dispatch and what happens right after.

When a call is placed to 911, the first thing the dispatcher does is figure out what type of an emergency it is. For this post we are going to assume that we are writing a scene in which a character has found a person who has been shot.  

If your work in progress requires your 911 operator to have any specialized knowledge, you need to know how much that operator knows. Training requirements vary state to state so check out your state of setting here.

As soon as the dispatcher finds out that your character has found a body, the dispatcher may ask the character if there are signs of life. For this, our character will say they don't know. In that case, dispatch will contact the closest EMS to the scene. If the closest is busy, the next closest is dispatched and so on. Police will also be contacted. If the body found has obvious signs of death, the dispatcher may forgo EMS and only dispatch police.

If EMS determines that the person is dead, they will not will not intervene and offer aid. As my paramedic friend said, "we don't help dead people." What are obvious signs of death? There's a light overview is in this post. I will go into greater depth in a coming podcast. (out Oct 3)

If the body is located in an unsafe environment, such as in a house where the smell of gas is strong or is behind a locked door, firefighters may be dispatched. They will enter the habitation and make it as safe as possible. Firefighters will not remove a body from a residence unless there is an assumption of imminent collapse of the house or the area is considered very dangerous. Otherwise, it is policy for firefighters to leave the body as they discover it so as to not disturb evidence.

EMS will document what they observe in the victim. They will not give a cause or time of death. They will also not transport the body. They will stay at the scene until the police get there to secure it. Securing means just making sure the area is safe from passersby, loved ones or media tampering with evidence or any part of the scene.  

We are looking at this scene as a death via gunshot wound. That can leave body matter in the area but likely not large pieces. If there is large body matter at a scene, who cleans it up?

EMS, firefighters and PD are not to tamper with any part of the scene which includes a dead body or parts thereof. PD may be instructed to do so as a part of an investigation to collect evidence. But, they are not to do so until instructed and must follow strict protocol. 

Sometimes, however, they do collect body matter in the interest of public safety/good. For example, let's say C-3PO is crossing the street and an inebriated driver in a Landspeeder hits him at a high rate of speed. That will cause C-3PO to basically explode all over creation.

When EMS, firefighters and PD get to the scene and see that C-3PO's arms, legs and head are lying in the road in view of all the Padawans getting out of school, they will first try to cover the parts of C-3PO's body to keep them out of sight. If that's not possible, these first responders may possibly move some body parts especially if they know what happened to C-3PO. Are they supposed to? No. But in the interest of the public good, they just might.  

After EMS has documented what they have seen and the PD has secured the scene, the forensics crew arrives. Does a hoard of investigators in hazmat suits or regular suits roll up and scour the scene of every single gun death? No. It depends on the circumstances at the scene. There's simply not enough funding, manpower or hours in the day for that.  

So, in your WIP, it may be that your death scene may not have all manner of investigative personal present. If one character is shot dead and another character is caught at the scene and confesses, there may be less evidence collected than if the murder fits the profile of a serial killer. Also, if the scene is especially gruesome, involves a minor or a sexual assault, investigative personnel will more likely be present.  

After the investigators and police are finished with the crime scene, crime scene cleaners come in. They are trained in biohazard clean up and are super interesting folks, let me tell ya. We will talk a little more about them in coming posts. In our next post we will look a little closer at what the crime scene investigators do.  

Before I get to the videos, let me say that I love first responders. I train with many on a regular basis (EMS, FD, PD) and they are great people. Any that I have talked to for help with writing have been very generous. If your WIP has first responders, reach out to a few for some authenticity in your work. I think you'll find they are happy to help.

Here's a short video from Nightwatch showing EMS tending to a gunshot victim who is "very upbeat for a guy with a hole near his junk."

Here's a day in the life of a 911 Dispatcher. I like this one because it shows the screen they look at. 

And last but not least, The Magician Cop.

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Crime Scenes: Call to Clean-up, Pt 1: The Call

Well, your character has gone and done it. They went and killed somebody. What is a writer to do? First and foremost, a writer has to get things right.

Over the next few posts we will be looking at how a murder scene is addressed from the moment a 911 call is made until the area is again a healthy habitation. If the words, “healthy habitation” confuse you, well, keep an eye on these posts.

Calling for help – The first step in handling an emergency is to call for emergency services. In the United States the number to call, regardless of your emergency need, is 911. But what if your character isn’t in the good ol’e U. S. of A.? Here is a handy list of emergency management numbers for the countries who boast some of the most populated and/or frequented cities in the world. I will also include a link in case the city your character finds himself in isn’t listed. Some countries, like the U.S. have a universal number. Others have different numbers for different emergencies.

000 (112 cell phone)


9 555 5555
855 551-3



122 (traffic accident)



Hong Kong



100, 103 (traffic accident)


112, 118
112, 115
112, 113





166, 117


Saudia Arabia




998, 999

U.K. / Ireland
112, 999

I was going to post some funny 911 calls, but as I have plenty of
friends that are first responders, ridiculous 911 calls just make me angry. So, I'm attaching the funniest emergency call that was never called in to 911. I have listened to this call at least 100 times over the years and I cry laughing every single time. This is how we handle things here in Texas, y'all. Enjoy.  

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages!