[Top One Hundred] Why I hate the word Exerminator

Features - PCT Top 100 2011

Veteran pest management professional Linda Prentice explains why she dislikes this antiquated term.

June 28, 2011

Editor’s note: Last month’s PCT included our annual Top 100 list. As part of PCT’s coverage we profiled several companies from the list including Jacksonville, Fla.-based Bug Out Service (#41). The following editorial is from Bug Out Service Technical Director Linda Prentice, a pest management professional with more than 30 years of experience and one of the industry’s strongest advocates.

I started my pest control career in 1981. I did not find it. It found me. I was recruited by a neighbor. She explained that a pest control company in Jacksonville had women servicing homes. In fact, she was one of them. They were looking for a route technician.

The requirements were very simple. You had to have a good driving record with a Florida license and be personable, hard working and willing to learn the job. Working outside was not really emphasized because we mainly treated inside the home.

So, off I went…and I loved it! I could measure and mix, carry a 1-gallon sprayer, talk to customers all day, and kill bugs. All I had to do is spray the baseboard. Not bad at all.

The more familiar I became with the industry, the more the word "exterminator" began bothering me. I was called "the exterminator" or "the bug lady."

There must be a more descriptive word to describe our jobs, I thought.

I actually felt embarrassed, and ashamed. My son’s friends would say, "Your mom is an exterminator," and would laugh.

Children were not the only ones laughing that Linda Prentice was an exterminator. Adults thought it was funny too. "Oh, so you kill bugs?" or "Do you wear pointed shoes being an exterminator?" (It took me a while to understand that question — that they thought we wore pointed shoes to squash bugs in floor corners.)

Training was very limited at that time. There were no tutorials, very few books and few seminars.

I wondered how I could love this job, and yet be ashamed. Linda is a "bug lady" or, most frequently, an "exterminator."

MAKING CHANGES. That job turned out to be a career. I made a decent living and was providing for my family. There was just one problem; I hated the word "exterminator." You can imagine how thrilled I was when IPM came about and I heard the term pest management professional. Finally, someone got it right.

The word "protect" began being used over and over. We protect the family, the pets, the home and the environment. Wow, I was so excited. We protect! Yes!

The 90s looked very promising with new products, vehicles, uniforms, technology and lots of training. I was finally going to see the word "exterminator" go away, right? No, that did not happen. I finally realized that the word is going absolutely nowhere. It will always be in the dictionary. (Here’s how Webster’s Dictionary defines exterminate: to get rid of completely usually by killing off [exterminate termites and cockroaches]). There will always be people calling our service technicians that word: exterminators.

When most people think of an exterminator, the image is of a uniformed service person carrying a sprayer. I guess no one told the public. No one let the world know that we are pest management professionals. We protect; we prevent infestations. And when we get called to an account that is infested, we use vacuums and very little products inside the home.

We communicate and document. We train constantly, never letting up so we can stay updated on longtime enemies and invasive pests. We protect food. We keep really bad illnesses from spreading. The bacteria being carried by some pests can be detrimental. Diseases kill people. Pests carry diseases. Termites eat homes, and fleas and ticks make unhappy pets.

Here in Florida, homeowners love shrubs and flower beds. They love bird feeders, and small homemade ponds with water fountains, pools and screened in patios. There is a retention pond everywhere you look.

Did Floridians think that they could create a beautiful eco-system around their home and not get insects? That is exactly what the insects love — warm weather, mulch, flowers, shrubs touching the house, lots of turf with irrigation systems running.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT. So here is my question: If the average customer wants to compete with nature, why would we want to treat inside?

The pests are on the outside. We prevent them from getting in. We prevent them from infesting properties. We educate. We care.

We don’t get rid of pests completely by killing them off like the dictionary said.

They will always come back. History has proven that.

We are our industry’s consultants. Do you think the customer would want that...or an exterminator?

The author is technical director of Bug Out Service, Jacksonville, Fla., and can be contacted at lprentice@giemedia.com.