On the job, Sulaimi Abd Rahman’s presence is great relief to harassed residents. Rats would curl their tails in fright and roaches would take flight if only they knew what their fates would be. The 38-year-old vector control technician has spent five years working in the pest-management industry. He has wrestled a variety of creepy crawlies ranging from termites to pythons, saving numerous properties and lives.
Sulaimi’s typical work day reads like a police officer’s. On an uneventful day, Sulaimi clocks in hours from 7.30am to 5.30 pm on weekdays. Together with a colleague, he would conduct routine checks around the client’s area for pest infestations, illegal feeding of strays and any other actions that lead to the population of pests. Certain abnormalities may warrant the attention of another team that specializes in dealing with it, in which case, Sulaimi would report back accordingly to his company Pest-Pro Management.
Night surveillance is sometimes required, especially when dealing with sewer rats. As sewer rats are active at night, dusting powder is used to track the rats’ movements. When the burrows are discovered, poison is placed inside to kill the rats.
Fortunately in Bishan-Toa Payoh where Sulaimi does his rounds, rat infestation is mild and manageable. Bin centres, as well as dark and wet conditions in manholes and sewers make the presence of rats inevitable, but there is something that can be done to reduce the presence of rats, and that is to stop feeding strays, or at least clean up properly after feeding the strays.
“Many residents like feeding cats and birds, but they leave after putting out the food, and there are often leftovers. The wrong strays are then attracted,” reasons Sulaimi.
Ad-hoc emergencies disrupt the day’s peace. There is no switching off her phone for P.Jothii, Sulaimi’s colleague and a coordinator who liaises between clients and the company. She has to be available 24 hours, along with a special team that the company has designated to deal with such emergencies. The duo reminisced about a particularly memorable incident where bees stormed an entire HDB block, constructing hives on several floors. Taking into consideration that bees had poor vision at night and would not attack, the extermination was conducted from 1 am to 3 am.
“It was like a police raid on Crime Watch,” Jothii agreed laughingly.
Pest management is tricky business, and there is no one-size fits all solution. Every pest responds to different baiting techniques and chemicals. Detailed diagnosis must be carried out before a solution can be arrived at. As such, all vector control technicians must attend a course by the NEA where they would learn about all the different types of pests and how to get rid of them. In fact, vector control technicians have to learn to use technology to aid them with their work. For example, when handling termite infestations, Sulaimi’s company utilizes an equipment called the T3I Thermoscan, which detects the location of termite nests through changes in temperature and movement patterns beyond surfaces without the need to knock down walls or unscrew furniture.
On bedbug infestations, one of the peskiest problems a household can be ridden with, Sulaimi explains that the solution is a complex and time-consuming one, possibly involving several visitations. A thorough inspection is first conducted on the house to find where the bedbugs lay the eggs. Chemical sprays are used on the adults, but the eggs cannot be killed or destroyed, so a residual chemical is used on them. When the eggs hatch, the newborns come in contact with the chemicals and die. Sealing up of cracks and crevices in the apartment is encouraged as they are cozy hidey holes for bedbugs.
Sulaimi has the following advice, “Don’t press your fingers over the bed bugs or attempt to burn them. The scent from the dead body will attract more bed bugs. Instead, stick a scotch tape over the bedbug, then pull it up and dispose it.”
As bed bugs are usually brought in due to travels in other countries, one should wash all clothes in hot water upon returning, and sun the luggage under direct sunlight. A steamer can also be used as heat kills bed bugs. Sulaimi shrink-wraps his luggage when he returns to Singapore.
The willingness to learn and passion for the job are essential qualities for a good pest control, as there is so much that they have to know, on top of working long and odd hours and the tiring nature of the job. Sulaimi and Jothii are also at the mercy of some unreasonable residents who blame them for the continued presence of rats.
“Good communication and interaction skills come in handy in pacifying angry residents, or people who don’t understand the nature of our work,” Jothii says.
Despite the various challenges, Sulaimi derives great satisfaction from solving the client’s problems.
“Seeing how grateful they are makes me really happy,” he smiles.
– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine