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Home Magazine [Inspection Tools] Becoming a pest investigator

[Inspection Tools] Becoming a pest investigator

Features - Inspections

Inspection tools and equipment can be divided into three categories: those you must carry, those to which you should have access and those specialized tools that you don’t know you need until you need them.

Jay Bruesch | February 26, 2013

The scene:

An operating suite sometime in the not-too-distant future. On the operating table lies an unconscious PMP, barely clinging to life after overdosing on Purdue correspondence course study. A team of the world’s finest surgeons stands over her, discussing how to proceed. One of the surgeons, Dr. Corrigan, whispers emphatically to his colleagues: “We can bring her back, even better than before! We can make her a pest investigator!”

The other medical personnel, Drs. Frishman, Heinsohn, Sheperdigian and Koehler, slowly nod their heads in awe-struck agreement. Wordlessly, the decision is made and finalized, and the team swings into action.

Many tension-filled hours later, the patient is wheeled into recovery and slowly brought back to consciousness. When she is finally able to focus her eyes, she notices that one of her hands has been amputated and replaced by a powerful flashlight; the other wrist has a steel spatula grafted on where her fingers had once been.

In that hushed operating theater, a pest investigator has been born, though the patient’s lifetime passion for playing classical piano music suffers a major setback. She finds that she can no longer negotiate the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2, considering that her fingers are gone. Her carefully honed touch-typing skills are, alas, for naught.

She reasons, “Hey, piano prodigies are a dime a dozen these days, and Mavis Beacon owns the crown for typing excellence. The trade-off was worth it!”


Why Do We Inspect?
Every rookie pest management professional can recite the fact that inspection is a vital component of Integrated Pest Management. But before starting, we should remind ourselves of why we do this time-consuming activity. After all, you can probably give a hundred examples of jobs you have done in which the inspection phase consumed almost all of the time spent solving the problem.

  • We inspect to find pests. It is in pests’ best interest to hide from their predators, and they make it as hard as they possibly can to get caught in our line of sight.
  • We inspect to find signs of pests — the damage they do; the droppings and cast-off larval or nymphal exoskeletons they discard as they move about; the tracks they leave in dust, soil or other surfaces; hairs, wings and other shed body parts; and the results of their feeding activity.
  • We inspect to find conditions that are conducive to pests. We bring these conditions to the attention of our clients so that they can take preventive action to make the environment in and around their homes or businesses inhospitable to pests.
  • We inspect to determine the location and severity of pest infestations.
  • We inspect in order to evaluate the success or failure of our prevention and control efforts, and to gain information on how we can become more successful at eradicating pests and the conditions that foster them.


If you asked the author of this article — who is not a world-famous surgeon, possesses neither piano proficiency nor blazing-fast typing skills and is only a so-so pest inspector — which inspection tools are indispensable, he’d tell you our newly minted bionic PMP has a pretty good start with just a spatula and a flashlight grafted to her wrists.

Beyond that, inspection tools and equipment can be divided into three categories (the first category is discussed on the following pages; you’ll have to wait until next month’s issue of PCT to read about the other two):

  • Those things you must carry with you on every pest inspection
  • Tools to which you should have access, though your company doesn’t have to purchase one for each person; and
  • Specialized tools that you don’t know you need until you need them.


Until the day when human inspection tool-implants are possible, we must continue to outfit ourselves with the inspection tools that help us ply our profession. Let’s explore these categories, starting with the non-negotiables; references will be provided at the end of next month’s article for where to source the inspection tools mentioned. (Author’s note: For the sake of brevity, monitoring, a sub-set of inspection, will not be covered in this article.)


Tools for All Inspections.
These are the “non-negotiables” for a PMP performing an inspection.


Inspection Kit.
If you show up at your client’s door with a sprayer and not much else, their confidence in you as a professional will correspond with the image you project. On the other hand, if you arrive with an inspection kit instead of bringing on the sprayers, dusters and bait applicators right away, you send the message that you are a professional, and that you are going to diagnose exactly what the problem is before you prescribe any remedial action. Keep your inspection equipment (described as follows) in a neatly organized tool bag or toolbox.


Spatula. Unlike the fictitious Dr. Corrigan of our story, the real Dr. Bobby Corrigan, of RMC Pest Management Consulting, has never laid scalpel to human flesh. But he wisely points out that pests and the signs of pests often reside in tight cracks and crannies to which our eyes and fingers do not have access.

Drrigan advises that all PMPs need a rugged, rust-proof, flat blade that they can insert beneath wall sills, into cracks beneath the bases and piers supporting processing machinery, and into every other kind of crack and cranny you can think of. Get a baker’s cake-frosting spatula 8 to 10 inches long, preferably with an offset (“dropped”) blade so that you can reach cracks that are flush with the floor without skinning your knuckles. Using the spatula, you can dig out termite wings, pests, droppings, rodent nest material, “guck” from drains, frass, cast larval exoskeletons, and other evidence of pests that might be hidden from plain view, or might have been removed by normal cleaning operations. No need to have this surgically grafted to your arm, but you should have your spatula in hand almost constantly while inspecting for pests and the evidence they leave behind. Spatulas should have plastic handles and steel blades if intended for use in food plants.

In addition to being used to dig material out of cracks and tight spaces, a spatula also can be used to thinly spread debris, grain or flour dust, in order to look for live insects or other evidence of pest activity. In short, they’ll help you become the pest investigator that Dr. Corrigan exhorts us to be.


Flashlight. This is the Golden Age of flashlights. No longer do we have to make do with underpowered incandescent flashlights that burned through D-cells in no time flat, leaving us to squint into dark spaces by the dim yellow light of a dying Ray-O-Vac. Halogen-bulb lamps came along in the 1980s, bringing us the capacity to see more, see farther, and inspect more effectively. Today’s vast array of LED flashlights combine blinding brilliance, ridiculously long bulb and battery life, and are light weight to create an inspection tool that is affordable, effective and absolutely indispensible. Some LED flashlights provide a focused “spot” beam for looking up into rafters and into hard-to-reach corners; others give a bright, flooding light that will easily illuminate cabinets, dark corners, machinery and other close-up locations. You either need one of each, or you can get a flashlight that can be adjusted to provide both types of beams. Actually, today’s flashlights are too bright sometimes. When inspecting, learn and use the technique of shining the light diagonally across surfaces; insect or rodent tracks will show up better in the shadows created by an oblique beam.


Multi-Tool.
Inspection is all about gaining access. You have to look where you need to look, and sometimes this means you have to unscrew a machine cover, lift up a drain grate, pull up a section of carpeting to inspect for ant trails or bed bugs, or cut open a carton to look for pest evidence. Whether you have a Gerber, a Leatherman, a SwissTool or any other brand, don’t go into inspection mode without an effective multi-tool blazing the way for you. A word of caution: Don’t remove any machine guard without first de-energizing the machine and securing lockout-tagout of the equipment. Your client will help with this. Also, be certain your multi-tool stays clear of electrical contacts; electrocution is not the most fun you’ll have on the job.


Magnifier. As a pest management professional, you have a large store of information about pests that will help you find, outsmart and eliminate many different kinds of pests. But you can’t use this information until you know exactly what pest you are dealing with. No pest management professional should ever be without a good-quality magnifier. 10x magnification is probably the minimum acceptable power rating required in order to see the antennae, mouthparts, body markings and other distinguishing features that will tell you what kind of pest you’re looking at. 16x or 20x is even better. Much higher magnification than that is difficult to hold steady in field-inspection situations, though it’s certainly handy if there is a powerful stereo microscope back at your office for confirming the ID of difficult specimens. If what you’re calling a magnifier is one of those drugstore reading glasses that magnifies to 2x, give that to your grandpa and go get yourself a real magnifier. Magnifiers do not have to be expensive; you may be able to get them gratis from your company’s vendors, or you can purchase them at hobby and science stores. Companies wishing to buy high-quality magnifiers in bulk can prowl the Internet for bargains. You can often find bulk-quantity magnifiers on eBay or other Web retailers for around $3 each.


Knee Pads. Raise your hand if you are a PMP under 19 years of age. If so, you don’t need knee pads. Keep your hand up if you don’t mind cutting up your knees on broken glass, sharp-edged bottlecaps and other debris that we encounter when inspecting. The fact is, knee pads ensure that we will get down low and look into those areas we cannot see when standing flat on the soles of our shoes. They’ll keep us comfortable and our clothes clean. You need knee pads. Get some and wear them.


Spiral Notepad.
You have a smartphone with a voice recorder? Good for you. If you’re half as smart as your smartphone, you left it in the truck where it won’t fall out of your pocket, get lost, scratched up and won’t interrupt you while you’re with your client. Carry a plain old paper notepad on which you can write notes about what you are seeing, finding, doing and planning. In this way, you’ll have an easy reference when you talk to your client at the end of the service visit, and you’ll write a more thorough service report. Your memory isn’t perfect, and if you found a gap under the door near the southeast corner of the warehouse, your client needs to know this. A notepad remembers everything you tell it to remember.


Collecting Vials or Dishes. You might be able to identify several dozen pests on sight, or maybe even a hundred or more. Some pests might be too small to identify on the spot, or you might not recognize them. Keep plastic vials or Petri dishes with you for this purpose. If you don’t, you’ll end up having to improvise, putting the specimens in anything that’s at hand — a cellophane cigarette wrapper, a piece of masking tape, a Dixie cup — and the specimen may or may not make it to your staff or extension entomologist intact.


Telescoping Mirror.
A polished-steel inspection mirror enables you to see under edges of things and into tight spaces where you cannot aim your vision. You’ll be able to see beneath and inside of areas where it would otherwise be impossible to see. It’s best to use an all-steel mirror, to avoid the hazard created by broken glass if the mirror should fall or break. Place the mirror into the tight space, shine a bright flashlight into the space and new vistas will open up to you. Plus, using a mirror impresses the heck out of your customer.


Flushing Agent. The use of pyrethrin flushing aerosols almost seems so old-fashioned these days. We used to rely on flushing bombs to help us find cockroaches’ hiding places. Nowadays, other flushing agents are in use. For example, you can flush roaches out of hiding with a single puff from a can of compressed air of the type used for cleaning dust out of computer equipment. A small bicycle tire inflator with a CO2 cartridge can be used to flush bed bugs out of their hiding places: Release some carbon dioxide, which bed bugs detect and interpret as a sign of the presence of a warm-blooded animal, in an area of suspected bed bug activity, put the inflator away, and wait a few minutes to see if any bed bugs have been enticed out of their hiding places and are approaching the source of the CO2.

In many cases, your spatula will be the most effective “flushing” tool available. Dig?


Personal Protective Equipment. Protect your hands and head. Gloves and a bump cap are a must, as are safety glasses. A protruding nail in a crawl space or attic can cause serious pain, or even land you in the emergency room, awaiting a tetanus booster while looking at worn-out copies of People magazine. Wearing a coverall can protect you from scratches, plus it’ll keep your clothes neat and tidy.


Editor’s note:
Look for part two of this article in next month’s PCT, where Bruesch will discuss the tools you should have access to and various specialized tools.

 


The author is technical director at Plunkett’s Pest Control in Fridley, Minn. He can be reached at jbruesch@giemedia.com.

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