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A Tampa Bay disinfecting business is born of pandemic reality

Two firefighters are working to cleanse bars and restaurants struggling with the coronavirus.

ST. PETERSBURG — Shrouded in a baggy white suit and puffing through a full-face respirator, Eric Rodriguez worked his way through the Galley, spraying liquor bottles and touch pads as he went.

The fogging machine dragged behind him, hissing as vapor shot out of a blue hose and covered the jukebox. A cloud of mist engulfed a table next to a wall-sized map of Florida.

It’s not that easy to sanitize the state in real life. Still, two Tampa men are trying to keep businesses around the region clean.

Eric Rodriguez, co-owner of Disinfectant Firm, Tampa, disinfects the bar area using Proxitane AHC at The Galley tavern, St. Petersburg, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Rodriguez and Vincent Supernor have worked together as professional firefighters for five years. When the coronavirus reached Florida, they started using paint sprayers to douse firetrucks and the fire station with disinfectant products.

Soon they started Disinfectant Firm, offering their services to local businesses.

The pair now does between five and eight jobs a day, working as early as 4 a.m. to hit bars after they close. Disinfectant Firm uses Proxitane AHC, an EPA-registered disinfectant, to deep clean local businesses including Dog Bar, Tampa Barbers and Mary Margaret’s Olde Irish Tavern.

“We’re just another layer of protection for the public to attempt to slow the spread,” Supernor said.

Supernor, 43, does the billing and supervises each job from outside while Rodriguez, 33, dons a white Tyvek protective suit and full-face respirator.

“It’s almost like a sauna,” Rodriguez said, zipping the suit. “When you take it off, you’re pretty drenched.”

At the Galley, Rodriguez starts in the back and works his way out to the front, where he douses the patio furniture and plants.

Eric Rodriguez, co-owner of Disinfectant Firm, Tampa, disinfects the outside dining area using Proxitane AHC at The Galley tavern, St. Petersburg, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Disinfectant Firm charges by square foot and sells 32 ounce bottles of the cleaning agent for $7.50, with $5 refills available so business owners can touch up in between cleanings.

Pete Boland, co-owner of the Galley, hired Disinfectant Firm after several employees tested positive for the coronavirus, closing the restaurant on June 12. The restaurant reopened Wednesday, four hours after Disinfectant Firm visited.

Pete Boland, co-owner of The Galley tavern, St. Petersburg, talks about reopening the business, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. The business closed in mid June when several employees tested positive with COVID-19. Boland had the business disinfected, Wednesday by employees of Disinfectant Firm, Tampa. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Boland won’t specify how many workers got sick, but said about a third of the employees were asymptomatic and none were hospitalized. He plans to bring back Disinfectant Firm for touchups once a week.

“It’s never going to go away,” he said. “It’s here. We just have to learn to live with it.”

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