covid cleaner sydney bams
Ready and raring. The BAMS team before the COVID cleaning operation. Photo: Naeun Kim

This Former Crime Scene Cleaner Is Now a Go-To COVID Slayer

While most people run from catastrophes, Zammit is a natural in distressing situations.

It’s week 12 of Sydney’s second lockdown. Places are shut, roads barren, and the silence deafening—but not for one warehouse in Horsley Park. A convoy of buses, vans, and cars roll up as lines of people in black uniforms disembark.

Like clockwork, the crew put on hazmat suits and heavy-duty masks while setting up a staging post of three white plastic tables, swiftly and silently. An arsenal of chemicals and equipment covers the tables as portable sinks are placed nearby. Test sprays and radio chatter flood the air as commander-in-chief Brian Zammit gathers his troops.


“Leave no stone unturned,” Zammit shouts.  

Even the blaring walkie talkie on his waist cowers at his voice. Wide-eyed and suited up, his squad nods. But this is no military operation. 

They’re about to deep clean 25,000 square meters of a warehouse to make sure there is no trace of COVID-19. The company, which wanted to remain unnamed, had a COVID scare and hired Zammit and his team to clean the premises weekly. Such is the demand for Building and Maintenance Services (BAMS), Zammit’s cleaning company. If there’s a COVID-19 case in the neighborhood, who you gonna call? BAMS. 

Zammit started as a crime scene forensic cleaner 30 years ago, before moving on to building maintenance, doing repair and emergency work after catastrophes like floods and fires. 

covid cleaner sydney bams

Brian Zammit. Photo: Naeun Kim

“We cleaned many of the major crime scenes in New South Wales, you name it, we were probably there,” he said.

One of the most memorable crimes for him was the Strathfield massacre in 1991, where a man went on a shooting rampage in a shopping mall, killing eight people and himself. With blood and destruction everywhere, Zammit and his team cleaned the scene so the center could rebuild. 

“It’s a lot to take in emotionally, but when you have a job to do, you just do it,” he recalled. 

From working on Hurricane Katrina to the Christchurch earthquake, Zammit has learned to embrace and make the most of disasters. 


“As soon as COVID came into play, we had the experience,” Zammit told VICE. 

“As soon as COVID came into play, we had the experience.”

Zammit pivoted to chemical cleaning as soon as the pandemic reached Australia, and while he hasn’t had a day off since, it has certainly paid off. BAMS charges average-sized businesses, like pubs, around AU$4,500 ($3,324) for the service. One job required his team to be stationed at a venue 24/7 for three weeks, raking in AU$100,000 ($73,865) a week. 

“We’ve gone out to Dubbo, Nyngan, Maitland, Wollongong. We’ve been all over the place and had to sleep many times in vehicles,” he said, explaining how his job now has him traveling all over New South Wales.

Zammit and his team have also cleaned buses, airplanes, morgues, and—just recently—a 21-story crane, after the operator became infected. 

“I had to climb up some 100 meters, with 16 liters of chemicals and equipment in hazmat suit and full-face respirator, cleanse the cabin, then go back down and do it all again for the second crane,” he said.  

covid cleaner sydney bams

​BAMS workers suited up. Photo: Naeun Kim

Back in the Horsley Park warehouse, the squad is fired up and ready to enter after the toned-down (due to present company) pep talk.

“Not in front of reporters but, a bit like a sergeant major, there’s a bit of yelling that goes on, a bit of colorful language happens to rev ‘em all up and get ‘em all excited and stimulated a bit,” Zammit said.

covid cleaner sydney bams

A quick pep talk to rally the troops. Photo: Naeun Kim

Armed and protected, the first squadron marches in. There’s 20 aisles to douse and just two hours until the night shift workers trickle in. The first task is to stabilize the air circulation, including turning off any air conditioning or exhaust fans because of the virus’ airborne tendencies. The second is to disinfect the toilets, in case anyone needs to use it, Zammit explained. 

From containers they carry on their backs, the “red” team sprays quaternary ammonia, a laboratory-approved and tougher-than-your-average-household-cleaner disinfectant. Forming two lines, they make their way down each aisle, crop-dusting everything at arm’s length—boxes, palettes, forklifts. There’s no chatter during this deep saturation, just military precision. 

“Within 10 to 15 minutes, anything and everything is dead. No more COVID—well, until the next infection comes along,” Zammit said. 

Once the red team is done, the second line of defense enters—the “amber” squad. Wearing hospital-blue gowns and oxygen masks, this team is responsible for all the hard surfaces and high-frequency touch points. 

“They’ll go in and disinfect and sanitize all the hard surfaces, desktops, chairs—turn them upside down—remote controls, even the levers on chairs,” Zammit said. 

covid cleaner sydney bams

Preparing the disinfectants. Photo: Naeun Kim

A second amber crew is then sent in, this time for all the objects that are rarely considered but regularly touched. Using alcohol, they wipe all light switches, keyboards, computer screens, blind cords, and anything that can’t be heavily saturated for electronic reasons—indeed leaving no stone unturned. 


The team varies from young to old, first-dayers to veterans, but they said the staff has surprisingly remained COVID-negative since the pandemic began. Unfortunately, some of their nearest and dearest have not. 

“We’ve got about four people in our teams who have lost loved ones, lost their mothers from COVID. There are a few—someone’s father and another’s sister—currently in hospital, so they’ve all got their own reason to be here,” Zammit said.

Daniel, who asked to only be identified by his first name because he didn’t want his family back home finding out about their situation, is Zammit’s second-in-command and has been with BAMS since day dot. He moved to Sydney from Colombia with his mom and younger sister a few years ago, and they often talk about returning home to visit family as soon as travel restrictions are lifted. 

In May, his mother died of COVID-19. She was 47 years old.

“When I’m cleaning, I sometimes think of her and need to stop for a few minutes. It’s been really hard,” he said.

He doesn’t pause while cleaning the warehouse, however. 

covid cleaner sydney bams

Disinfecting a forklift. No piece of equipment is left untouched. Photo: Naeun Kim

From nursing homes to government buildings, BAMS has helped keep parts of Australia running throughout the pandemic. In Sydney and its state New South Wales, a venue must immediately close down and be thoroughly cleaned when a COVID-19 case appears. It’s then also listed publicly as an infected site, so you can imagine what this would do to a business. 


“I’ve been to multiple places where they were literally going to stand down hundreds of workers until further notice… but we then send our virologist, rapid-testing, and cleaning teams out and help them open again. Being able to help the community and keep the wheels turning really gives you a good feeling,” Zammit said. 

“Being able to help the community and keep the wheels turning really gives you a good feeling.”

With crews and cars on standby across Sydney, Zammit can send a team out within 15 minutes. This omnipresence sometimes demands nights at the steering wheel, but also attracts unwanted attention. The company has received death threats for “supporting the government’s COVID conspiracy” and being “devil worshippers,” simply because there are three sixes in their phone number. 

But what happens to BAMS post-COVID? 

“There’s already a number of big corporations talking to us and employing our services for the next 12 months, in the event of another wave,” Zammit said.

While most people run from catastrophes, Zammit is a natural in distressing situations. Crimes, floods, fires, pandemics—Zammit’s not afraid. When the next disaster strikes, you know who to call. 

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