A story that Jim Skinner, owner of A&C Pest Management in East Meadow, said he is reluctant to share concerns a trip he made to Pennsylvania roughly five years ago on New Year’s Day to conduct a bed bug treatment in the room of a child with neck cancer. The child required a trachea tube to breathe, and his mother feared that the bed bugs would make their way into his airways.
A&C primarily serves clients from Manhattan to Montauk, but Skinner said he wanted to help the family because of the severity of their case. He did it for free, and brought the child his favorite toys as a late Christmas gift.
But Skinner isn’t big on bragging — nor does he want to give potential customers the impression that payment for his services may be optional.
“Sometimes I feel it’s my social responsibility,” he said of his work. “But I know I’m in a business, and I have employees to take care of.”
A&C Pest Management celebrated its 50th anniversary on Feb. 2, and Skinner recently shared with the Herald the company’s history and how much has changed in the field of entomology since he got involved in it.
Neil O’Conner founded A&C in 1969, and two years later, Skinner’s father, Walter, joined him. The two were close friends, both East Meadow residents and members of the New York City Fire Department.
O’Conner left the business in 1973, and in 1984, after graduating from W.T. Clarke High School in Salisbury, Jim Skinner joined the company. Ten years later, he took it over with his wife, MaryAnne, and his father retired.
Jim had helped him since he was a child, he said, recalling wading through mud in the space under the basement of an Italian restaurant and singing to ward off rats.
“It was fun, but scary,” he said. The day he earned his driver’s license, his father handed him a map of Manhattan with a route of pest-control visits.
Now Skinner is an associate certified entomologist and a past president of the New York Pest Management Association, which he helped start in 2013. On the walls of his office are several awards he has earned through his business and community involvement, including East Meadow Chamber of Commerce Person of the Year and two service awards from the Kiwanis Club.
On Skinner’s desk is a scorpion encased in glass and, next to it, a vial of bed bugs. A&C keeps the bugs on hand to train three Jack Russell terriers housed in a kennel in the business’s basement.
In a method known as the Dog Heat Dog Protocol, a home is heated to 135 degrees — 13 degrees above the temperature it takes to kill a bed bug — and the dogs, which are trained to sniff out live ones, are walked through the house before and after the treatment. Since 2009, A&C has used this method instead of “spraying chemicals into every crack and crevice of someone’s home,” Skinner said.
Asked if he’d ever dealt with scorpions like the one on his desk, he laughed and said, “No, but they’re a plane ride away.” That phrase, he explained, is often used by entomologists because of the speed at which pests — and the viruses they carry — can travel. One example is the Zika virus, which spread after deforestation in Uganda cleared the habitat of the mosquitoes that carried it, and they dispersed into the surrounding areas. From there, infected humans transmitted the disease when they traveled to other countries.
“This world is becoming a lot smaller,” Skinner said. “We always say we’re one plane ride away from an epidemic.”
He loves what he does, he said, because there is always more to learn. His sons James, 27, Kevin, 23, and Colin, 21, all work for A&C, and have accompanied him the way he did his father. As Jim spoke, Kevin was preparing to take one of the Jack Russells, named Chip, to a hotel in Manhattan so they could inspect rooms for bed bugs as guests were checking out.
Asked if there were any spreading viruses or epidemics that he was looking out for, Skinner’s eyes widened and he laughed. “We’re just hoping hantavirus doesn’t come back,” he said.