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"Opossums can be a real problem too," adds Weinberg. "There's lots of wild opossums around and they can really stink up a house, I'll tell you. Opossums get up into attics; cats nest underneath houses and have babies. If a cat's under a house in a crawl area, it's almost impossible to get it out."
As for unintentional people kills, Weinberg knows of only one horror story. "There was a death here about two years ago. The fumigator was at fault. It wasn't my fumigator," he emphasizes. "Two old ladies in a house. I think they were sisters. When the fumigator came to check the house, they were still inside. He told them, 'Well, when you leave, lock the door.' He came back a while later. The door was locked. He shot the gas in the house. But only one of the ladies had left, or they had both left but one came back. The neighbor heard this old lady in there trying to get out. By the time he was able to lift the snakes to get her out, it was too late. Which is not really the right way, you know? Right before you put the gas in, that's the time to check the house." (That same year the Miami Herald reported another tenting fatality, this one a 55-year-old Broward man who let himself into his apartment while it was being tented. Police found his nude body lying in the middle of the living room floor. His television set was on.)
"For the amount of fumigation we do," concludes Dominguez, "we have very few problems. Only one or two accidents in the ten years I've been doing it, and never anything involving humans still inside the house or anything like that."
Raul Dominguez arrives at the two-bedroom bungalow in Miami Shores where six hours earlier a Guarantee/Floridian crew removed the house's tent. All the windows are open, and ceiling fans whirl away, circulating fresh air throughout the place. The house has had plenty of time to, in fumigator lingo, "aerate itself."
Dominguez has come to conduct the postmortem. Like many of Guarantee's jobs, this house was referred by a realtor and has been vacant for a few days. The realtor has given Dominguez a key to the front door.
The fumigator assembles the safety kit he carries and wears into every freshly tented home: a flashlight, a self-contained breathing apparatus (an oxygen tank and mask similar to the type firemen wear), and a two-by-one-foot white Interscan box, the portable meter that draws air samples, breaks them down into parts per million, and tells Dominguez whether or not the Vikane has completely dispersed. Dominguez cuts an odd figure -- like something out of a postmodern science fiction movie -- as he enters the home clad in gray shorts and short-sleeved white Guarantee sport shirt. (Inhaling Vikane poses the only threat to humans; exposed skin is not a problem.) The sci-fi effect is heightened by the fact that he breathes through a mask on his face that's connected to a tank on his back, and that he carries the white box adorned with meters, gauges, dials, and lights.
Once inside he immediately notices five dark brown dots arranged in a tight circle in the center of the beige, short-pile living room carpet. Closer inspection reveals them to be the corpses of palmetto bugs, lying on their backs with their crooked little legs stretched in the air. "For some reason roaches usually come out into the middle of floors to die," muses Dominguez.
The fumigator thoroughly checks all of the house's nooks and crannies for the presence of Vikane. He is particularly careful around curtains. While doing a post-tenting house inspection in Little Haiti a few years ago, he opened one window's drapes and jostled loose a black widow spider, which fell onto his bare hand. The poisonous arachnid was still alive, but, luckily for Dominguez, too weak to bite. He preserved the spider in a jar of alcohol to serve as a reminder that he can never be too careful.
The house's kitchen and the two bedrooms yield nineteen dead German roaches and palmetto bugs, bringing the total roach kill for the house to an even two dozen. All the little brown buggies lie flat on their backs near the centers of the floors of the rooms in which they bought the farm. Dominguez does not bother to pick them up.
Next comes the home's adjoining carport, where a junked Camaro rusts away. The floor of the carport is littered with dead black pavement ants, all of them lying on their sides in the six-legged equivalent of the fetal position. Dominguez heedlessly crunches several of them underfoot as he tests the interior of the decomposing auto for Vikane. Just as Dominguez predicted, there is no sign of either Vikane gas or termites. The fumigator doffs the self-contained breathing apparatus and removes his equipment from the house. If he feels any remorse over his lethal handiwork, he doesn't show it.
Later, Dominguez pauses to reflect on a naive question from a curious homeowner: If the Interscan confirms that there is no Vikane gas left in the house, what assurance does the exterminator (or the homeowner) have that the termites are history? "We know we got a kill because the homeowners never call us back," he shrugs. And with that he politely breaks off the conversation. This is Florida, man. Raul Dominguez has a lot of bugs to kill.