Jim O'Brien stood a mattress on its end and ran his hands over the piping at its corners.
"It starts here; this is ground zero," he told woman next to him," and then, if you ignore it, it starts to spread out."
O'Brien, owner of Staten Island-based extermination company Pest Quest Management, specializes in bed bug and termite infestations — but the former has had his phone ringing off the hook.
On a recent Saturday, O'Brien and his assistant started the first of what will likely be three treatments in a Sunset Park, Brooklyn, home.
"We look at it as an investigation," said the former police officer. "We got to find out what's the problem, what's the particular insect or animal is causing to have a problem in that home."
O’Brien and his assistant clean the box spring, steam the mattress, vacuum the room, and spray the perimeter with a product that kills any live bugs and another that keeps them from reproducing ("Bed bug birth control," O'Brien quips).
The 20-year bug-fighting vet also works with the client — which can sometimes mean listening to the bed bug afflicted talking about the stress of an infestation. O'Brien said he had to refer other clients for professional counseling.
O'Brien can empathize. About a month ago he woke up with a bite on his face and thought if he brought bedbugs home, his wife would kill him.
"I can understand why people flip out because I would, too," he said. "Just the mere thought that these things while you're sleeping are crawling all over you."
It turned out to be a spider bite.
"Bedbugs don’t discriminate," O'Brien said. "They'll infest people who are poor, people who rich. No one is exempt from getting infestations but to this day, people are ashamed."