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Cover Story

Chemical Suicides

Charging in to rescue some suicidal subjects could cost you your own health and maybe even your life.

April 18, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Whether by the decedent's intent or by accident, some first responders may end up suffering a fate similar to that of Edwards County (Ill.) Sheriff Eugene Smith. Sheriff Smith rushed inside a house to rescue a couple who'd been overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning. He succeeded in getting the two outside before collapsing himself. Two days later, Sheriff Smith died.

Officers not immediately incapacitated by hydrogen sulfide exposure may still suffer long-term setbacks such as bronchitis, asthma, and other upper respiratory complications that may themselves turn deadly.

"When you have people using any type of sulfur-based compound with an acid, you're dealing with something that can be fatal in low concentrations alone. But the dangers associated with these suicides can be easily exacerbated.

"First, there's always the threat of gases not having escaped the vehicle. Then-as the Michigan situation illustrates-there's the possibility for a chemical remix which can be deadly in low concentrations. Factor in people who make at least one or two gallons of product who then fill a vehicle with X parts per million and it has nowhere to go, and it's a recipe for disaster. And the fact is, these people often make this stuff in vast quantities," Oreshan explains.

Training and Handling

Just a few days before Christmas 2009, a man in a pickup truck committed suicide in Sugar Creek, Mo., by mixing up cyanide. Several first responders were subsequently affected by the poison.

About a month earlier, James Simmerman read about chemical suicides in a bulletin directed to fire and emergency services personnel provided by the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control. At the time, he thought, "Nobody in Missouri would do something like that."

The incident changed Simmerman's mind.

"If it can happen in Sugar Creek," Simmerman says, "it can happen anywhere."

Realizing that there was a need for a safety program on chemical suicides, Simmerman developed a PowerPoint presentation, "Chemical Suicides-First Responder Safety." To date, he has provided the presentation and lesson plan to more than 680 requesting public safety agencies around the world.

Preventing officers from becoming collateral casualties, like all aspects of officer safety, comes down to training, logistics, and adhering to proper procedures.

Unless the officer happens upon a suspicious vehicle, the odds are that he or she will be dispatched to a call of a chemical suicide. It is therefore imperative that desk personnel and dispatchers be trained not only to acquire the best information possible from informants, but to keep those informants from coming to harm, as well.

Michele French is a communications training officer with the Lake County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office and she is developing a training program for the agency's desk personnel. "Training in this area is relatively new," French concedes. "We're educating dispatchers on basic questions to ask: Do you see anything suspicious around the vehicle? Are there any notes posted on the windows?"

When it comes to accurate information, French believes it is as important to acquire it as it is to share it: It does nobody any good if either informants or first responders get too close to contaminated vehicles or structures.

"We are the first point of contact. It's very important to ask the right questions. Always get plenty of information. Even if you think you may not need it, go ahead and get it. Officer safety is a top priority."

CONTINUED: Chemical Suicides «   Page 3 of 4   »

Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

Bill Brown @ 4/19/2011 5:55 PM

After reading this editorial, I hope that this was sent to the 3 Officials it was intended for. If not, I will be more than happy to pay for the certified return receipt postage so that they get it. The problem with that is, they "WON"T GET IT"! They are clueless as to the policy that is implemented. Until they seek and heed the advise from those that know, our agents will be unable to defend themselves.

Dr.Kiriyu @ 8/30/2014 9:24 AM

( ^_^)/ Yo buddy. Still alive?

San Diego County (CA) Hazmat Releases Chemical Suicide Flammability Study 06/03/2014

And thanks, friend.
See you again.

Dr.Kiriyu @ 8/30/2014 9:25 AM

( ^_^)/ Yo buddy. Still alive?

San Diego County (CA) Hazmat Releases Chemical Suicide Flammability Study 06/03/2014

And thanks, friend.
See you again.

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