THE BLOOD WAS on Catherine Webber's front steps and handrail. It was on her sidewalk and shrubs. A wide slick of it had even gelled in her side alley.

Following its trail, you could see where the man who was gunned down in the wee hours of Nov. 17 on Ross' block of East Mount Airy had run, stumbled and then died from his wounds.

Catherine Webber, 73, had heard the commotion, peered out her bedroom window and seen the ambulance pull away. But she had no clue, until a neighbor alerted her by phone after dawn, that the outside of her home bore such grisly signs of what had happened.

She assumed that police would hose away the blood. But when she called 911 for help, she says, she was told that residents are responsible for property cleanup, which enraged her.

"I didn't even know the man who was killed!" says Webber, a retired Bell Telephone employee. "Why would I clean up his blood?"

Distraught, she called her daughter, a suburban schoolteacher, who rushed over. With neighbors, her daughter scrubbed the steps, sidewalk and alley with bleach and Pine-Sol, and hosed the block from top to bottom.

They wept all the while at the horror of the task. Afterward, they threw away the brooms, gloves and brushes, says Webber, still shuddering at the memory two weeks later.

"I wouldn't go out my door for five days, I was such an emotional mess," she says, pointing out the faint bloodstains that still mark her sidewalk.

"I couldn't walk past that."

Can you imagine the trauma of cleaning up blood spilled during an act of violence, especially against someone you don't even know? I'd be a wreck.

Not just about having to do it, but wondering if the bloody cleanup was putting anyone at risk.

I don't know about you, but whenever I need a blood test, the technician wielding the hypodermic wears gloves, a gown and face mask.

Afterward, it gets tossed in a red can marked "biohazard." The trash is then appropriately disposed of to prevent anyone from being exposed to blood-borne pathogens it might contain, like HIV or hepatitis C.

If hospitals and labs are taking such precautions, shouldn't the city, in some way, either do the same at a public crime scene - or at least advise residents about cleanup precautions?

In a city where 406 people were murdered last year and another 2,004 suffered nonfatal shootings, you can't tell me that others haven't had experiences similar to Webber's. (The Daily News took a call several weeks ago from an anonymous Hunting Park resident who said there were traces of brains on his curb from a shooting death the night before. Yes, brains.)

I'm not saying police should do the cleanup; they have enough on their hands. But given that citizens call 911 for crime issues, it's no wonder they expect help when they dial.

In many cases, Fire Department Executive Chief Daniel Williams told me, the police request that his department assess a hazardous scene - whether it's the result of criminal violence or not - and determine whether and what kind of cleanup is needed.

Except that I get the feeling that crime-scene blood hasn't really been considered a hazardous material. If so, the fire department wouldn't hose it into the sewers, the way a police spokesperson told me the department often has.

"I'd hate to think that's happening," says city public-health commissioner John Domzalski, noting that Webber's situation is the first that's been brought to his attention since he rejoined the city government this fall.

"We take universal precautions with blood in all our public-health facilities, so I think this is something that the police, fire and health departments need to look at together. We need to communicate what the protocols are, so we're all on the same page when advising the public."

Until then, residents like Webber can try one of the many private services that can be found on the Web just by googling "crime-scene cleanup."

"There aren't that many people who do what we do," says Tom Rohling of Tragic Solutions, a Reading-based company that, for a fee (anywhere from $500 to "multiple thousands" and usually covered by homeowners' insurance) will remove human blood and tissue and clean contaminated areas in accordance with federal standards.

"People are relieved to find out we even exist," says Rohling, a former cop who worked crime scenes for years before co-founding his company. "No one wants to do the cleanup themselves."

Certainly Webber and her daughter didn't, and it never occurred to them that a professional service existed that might've helped them out.

"That would've been good to know," says Webber. "I wish someone had thought to tell

us."

E-mail polaner@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2217. For recent columns: