While his family’s DVR recorded new episodes of TV programs "Criminal Minds" and "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" in another room one Wednesday evening, Residential Technician of Year Mariano Acosta spent some time explaining the methods he uses to solve residential pest problems he encounters every day as a specialist at Arrow Exterminating Company, Lynbrook, N.Y. A huge fan of detective-type television shows, Acosta uses a similar investigative approach to solve pest mysteries and close the case for each of his customers.
"My wife and I love when the characters try to solve the problem — that’s what I do in my job," Acosta said. "I tell people my job is like CSI. I like to investigate thoroughly, find out what the problem is and then solve it for my customers."
On a recent service visit, he assessed a situation in an apartment building where there were noises coming from the boiler room. Using his flashlight, he saw small footprints and a few feathers. Pretty sure that somehow birds were getting into the boiler through the chimney, he carefully removed the cover and, sure enough, he found the culprits.
"I removed some of the duct work to look inside. There was a bird in there so I took it out," Acosta said.
But he didn’t stop there and close up the boiler, wanting to make sure he completely took care of the problem. When he bent down to look inside again, he found another bird, and then another.
"It was like a clown car where they just keep coming out," he recalled with a laugh. "But, more importantly, I asked myself how the birds got in there if the chimney cap was on?" Although it looked like the chimney cap was on, Acosta decided to explore further by climbing up to the roof. As he suspected, he found a small hole that couldn’t be seen from below. Also a big fan of his cell phone, he took a picture to show his customer.
"Mystery solved. The building had been having this problem for years, and when the boiler was on there was a foul smell. That was birds of the past," Acosta explained. "I put wire mesh around the chimney so nothing else could get into it until they could fix it."
A LIFE OF SERVICE. A diverse background led him to his 12-year career in the pest management industry. He served his country as an aircraft mechanic in the United States Air Force during the 1970s, worked for the U.S. Postal Service for many years, and served as a layman in a youth ministry, Teen Challenge. A rewarding opportunity for Acosta, Teen Challenge’s mission is to provide youth, adults and families with an effective and comprehensive Christian faith-based solution to life-controlling problems to help them become productive members of society.
"When I was working with Teen Challenge, we had a pest control professional that would service the buildings. Because we had seven buildings, the organization decided to send me to take the courses to do it in-house," Acosta said. "The funny thing was that when I went to take the course, I saw our original exterminator there and he was the teacher and he asked if I was there to take his job away. It was awkward at first, but now we are the best of friends."
According to Acosta, he loved being part of the ministry and still volunteers at Teen Challenge today, but around the year 2000, he felt that God was telling him to make a move in a different direction to help others. Pest management was a natural fit for him as he was already certified. Although experienced in the industry, his new job required him to deal with different situations than he was used to conquering.
"I began as a city boy — dealing with cockroaches, rats and mice — things you normally find in the city," he says. "In the suburbs, you learn to deal with different things and it can be a whole new challenge to figure out how to solve customer problems."
According to Bern Wendell, Arrow’s manager of education and training, Acosta is assigned the most difficult jobs such as nuisance wildlife trapping, start-up rodent service and carpenter ant jobs. Wendell knows that Acosta will bring his unique and creative approach to solving the most challenging situations to provide effective and usually non-chemical issue resolution to keep customers happy and loyal.
"He is a true professional in the field and so very creative when going about his job. He has a uniqueness that makes him very special," Wendell said. "He’s always smiling, friendly and happy, and everyone just loves him — employees and customers alike."
GOING THE EXTRA MILE. Always willing to go the extra mile, Acosta has earned many awards from Arrow Exterminating and the company often receives letters of thanks from customers. So far, he’s earned awards such as Rookie of the Year, Swing Person of the Year, Specialist of the Year and Technician of the Month — twice.
Devoted to his job, Acosta is loved by customers due to his continuously positive attitude, listening skills and empathetic nature as shown by the continuous stream of congratulatory correspondence from them. And going above and beyond is simply in his nature.
One letter of thanks describes an incident where Acosta approached a woman who had just tripped on a stretch of uneven sidewalk, fell and sustained a deep cut to her lip. He offered to call an ambulance but the woman declined. After going back to his truck to pack up his equipment, he returned to help the woman into his truck and return her safely home.
"I will tell you that I had no idea what would have happened to me, had he not been there and showed such concern. His gentleness and consideration helped me through an unbelievably difficult situation," the woman wrote. "Incidentally, as a result of the fall, I required stitches in my upper lip which would not have been done successfully had too much time elapsed. Thanks to Mariano Acosta, timing was not a problem. I wanted you to know that an employee of the caliber of Mariano is a credit to Arrow."
According to Wendell, Acosta often also goes the extra mile, literally. While the Arrow Exterminating office is based on Long Island, Acosta lives in the Bronx, which makes for a long commute to and from work each day over the last 10 years. Despite the drive, he always arrives on time each day. "If I get a call for a stop at 4:45 p.m., even if it’s far from his usual area of service, he’s willing to take it, and he still has to drive back to the office and then to the Bronx afterward," Wendell said. "That’s pretty incredible."
A NATURAL MENTOR. Often leading by an example like that, Acosta serves as a speaker at the annual Arrow New Technician Training Class and as a one-on-one mentor for new technicians who complete more than 160 hours of on-the-job training after their 105 hours of classroom training. In addition, two other valuable assets he brings to Arrow include the pictures and videos he takes on the job.
"Mariano’s pictures and videos show new technicians the reality of the situation. A picture really is worth a thousand words, and with that he brings something that is valuable to the whole company," said Wendell. "It’s how Mariano is. He approaches every day as a gift and shares that gift with every person he meets."
The author is a frequent contributor to PCT and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s Not Easy Being Green
According to Bern Wendell, manager of education and training for Arrow Exterminating, Acosta’s Integrated Pest Management approach serves as a model for other technicians at the company.
"He trains new technicians to remove food, water and harborages, and to always choose pesticides as a last resort," Wendell said. "Beyond that, he brings very out-of-the box ideas to his work. IPM takes more knowledge, creativity and effort, which Mariano exudes."
Some of Acosta’s "green" services include using black light, borate wood treatment, exclusion, mechanical traps, a vacuum, chimney caps, video surveillance, insect growth regulators, exempt materials, botanical oils and mechanical alteration.
One challenge Acosta runs into is that some older customers still believe that if pesticides are not used, the job’s not complete.
"They believe that if you don’t spray you didn’t do your job. One way or another you have to re-educate them," he says. "So I take the time to explain that was the way we used to do it, but here’s how we do it now and how it’s better for everyone."