First Responders See New Risk in Suicide by Chemicals

Recent suicides show risks of household chemicals for EMS, fire and police.

by / March 16, 2009

Two recent cases of suicide by hazardous chemicals prompted author August Vernon and Red Hat Publishing to develop a set of guidelines for first responders to consider when approaching a scene that could involve suicide and hazardous materials.

The two cases involved men in their 20s who sealed themselves inside a vehicle with tape to prevent the gas from escaping. The household chemicals mixed together produce a flammable, noxious gas and cause victims to go unconscious and eventually suffer heart failure.

The following are some of the guidelines for fire, EMS and law enforcement to consider when approaching a potential suicide scene:

o Responders should look for unusual indicators such as notes, chemical containers, taped windows and vents, and unusual smoke or fumes.

o If noxious fumes are detected, respiratory protection should be donned as soon as possible while backing away from the scene. Re-enter the scene only after proper respiratory and dermal protection are worn.

o Scan the area with binoculars before entering.

o Responders should be warned that air-purifying respirators (APR) or powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR) are not adequate for this type of response.