Last week, three law enforcement officers in Georgia were hospitalized after being exposed to toxic fumes at the scene of a possible chemical suicide.
Chemical suicides involve people mixing easily-attainable chemicals to produce a toxic gas, which can kill rather quickly. Often this is done in an enclosed space such as a car; occasionally people use “exit bags”: plastic bags placed over the head, connected to a gas supply. Instructions are unfortunately readily available on the internet.
In many but not all chemical suicide incidents, the victim leaves a written warning for whomever will find them. Typically, the first instinct when faced with an unconscious person in a car is to open a door or break a window; in a home or hotel, rushing in after gaining access is also the norm. Though well intended, these actions also endanger first responders or anyone else attempting to render aid.
It is important to gain situational awareness and take time to perform a quick evaluation of the scene for responder safety — even if time is critical:
- Look for signs taped to doors or windows warning of any danger.
- Look in the windows for chemical containers or chemical fog.
- Take notice of any faint chemical odors.
- Look for tape sealing the edges of doors, windows or vents.
For more information, see the Chemical Suicide Case Study and training for first responders offered by HazMatNation.com. The International Association of Fire Chiefs also offers resources and a webinar on chemical suicide response.