If you ask 10 pest controllers how they got their start in pest control, odds are that at least nine of them will tell you a story about how they loved bugs as a kid. For instance, in a 1997 Hall of Fame story, Purdue’s Dr. John Osmun noted an experience of patting a caterpillar as it sat on his brother’s finger while he was still in his baby carriage!
Pest Control magazine’s 1998 Hall of Fame inductee Charlie Hromada’s start in pest control had to do with some “white bugs,” but his story has a little different twist. During the time that Hromada was attending Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., majoring in forestry, a division of Terminix called E.L. Bruce Co. was receiving complaints from customers about “white bugs” in the oak wood flooring that they were manufacturing.
E.L. Bruce Co. soon realized that these bugs were termites, but they didn’t know how to control them. So, the late Frank Lyons, who was the founder of the Terminix technical program, was assigned to the task of figuring out how to get rid of the “white bugs.”
He turned to Osmun, who was head of the entomology department at Purdue. Lyons wanted someone with a forestry background who could understand wood components to complete a research product for E.L. Bruce.
At that time, Terminix was drilling and injecting oil-based solutions into wood members as a method of termite control. (The trade name “Terminix” is a combination of termites and “nix,” which was franchised around the country.) Lyons wanted to demonstrate that chemical could actually penetrate into wood members as acceptable technology in termite control.
Once Osmun understood the parameters of the research project, he turned the matter over to Dr. Eric Stark, a Purdue forestry professor. Stark then selected Hromada to complete the two-year project as part of a Master’s degree in entomology at Purdue. VoilàHromada was hooked on pest control!
The research project lasted from 1952 to 1954. When it was completed, and Hromada had completed his degree, Terminix offered him a job as a technical director. Then in August 1954, Hromada moved from West Lafayette to Memphis, Tenn., to work in Terminix’s research laboratory. He helped to formulate termite control chemicals, and he was also responsible for developing training programs and technical manuals.
As part of his training responsibilities, Hromada obtained seven state pest control licenses, including Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, California, Georgia, Alabama and Kentucky. He still maintains these with the exception of the last three. He also became a member of the industry professional fraternity, Pi Chi Omega, right after he finished school.
Hromada retired on February 1, 1998, as Terminix International’s senior vice president of technical services and licensee relations.
Among his responsibilities for training and licensee relations, Hromada found himself working to temper regulations that have had a profound effect on the pest control industry. Namely, Hromada was heavily involved in lobbying efforts for the industry with concerns surrounding the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which was passed in 1970.
“For the first time, we would have a federal law that would regulate not just the manufacture and sale of pesticides, but also the use of these products,” Hromada explains. “As a major national company, Terminix wanted to be sure that the federal regulations were livable, so we spent a great deal of time in Washington lobbying Congress through the drafting of FIFRA.”
Through his work with FIFRA, Hromada worked closely and became great friends with Bob Russell, a 1997 Pest Control Hall of Fame inductee, as well as Dick Sameth, whose father, J.E. Sameth, is also being inducted this year.
“We testified at Congressional hearings, in both the Senate and House, on what our beliefs were, and changes to the laws and the subsequent regulations as they were being developed,” Hromada says.
Hromada believes that the industry got fair input into FIFRA, which helped to make the regulations livable. One area he was instrumental in was making supervisory certification the rule. Supervisory certification requires an operator or manager to be certified, and then he or she must train applicators. This eliminates individual licensing by examination for each technician.
“We felt that we could comply with the regulations without turning our business upside down. The people who were writing pesticide regulations viewed pesticides as being very bad things,” he admonishes. “We were able to overcome a lot of that misinformation and develop regulations that were usable and reasonable in the industry.”
At one point in his career, Hromada found himself at odds with Osmun, one of the very men who helped him get his start in pest control.
“John went to work for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He was head of the section of the agency that dealt with the pest control industry. We had some disagreements when he was in that capacity, and sometimes Bob, Dick and I had to tussle with John on a few issues,” he chuckles. “But the bumps in the road were soon smoothed over, and both sides came to amiable conclusions.
“The nice part of being in my position was that I was the industry representative for Terminix, and I traveled extensively. I got involved in a lot of state association and state regulatory work, as well as at the federal level, so I got to know people all over the country,” he notes.
In addition, Terminix developed a supplier operation in the form of Paragon Professional Products Group. Hromada was responsible for that operation and, as a result, worked closely with suppliers to the pest control industry. Subsequently, he made a lot of friends there, too. Not surprisingly, though, Hromada lists as his mentors Osmun, Lyons and Russell, who are all men that helped him along the stretch of his 46-year career.
Such Sweet Sorrow
Retirement for Hromada came with a great deal of mixed emotions.
“I loved what I did, and I worked with Terminix for 46 years, so that was a little hard to give up,” he muses. “It was a great career.
“In recent years, though, I haven’t enjoyed the attack on the industry by lawyers and regulators, specifically attorneys general,” he admonishes. “In my view, they are completely out of hand and costing the industry dearly in time and money. Because of our (Terminix) size, we were targeted, and I was always heavily defending our company and the industry, and that was not fun.”
While he was successful in his dealings with FIFRA, there were other areas that were less than perfect.
“We fought the battle of chlordane and lost, and I think that was a big mistake that cost homeowners untold millions of dollars that they shouldn’t have had to spend on termite damage,” he asserts. “In the meantime, pests go on and damage continues.”
To think, it all started with some little white bugs. Today, Hromada maintains contact with Terminix as a consultant.