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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

Suicide attempts: Response can be touch and go

When and how to act in these situations is a tough call, but a good relationship with other agencies is important groundwork for a successful outcome

By Adam K. Thiel

Editor's note: In light of some daring, and thankfully successful, rescues of those bent on suicide, Chief Adam K. Thiel looks at how we should prepare for these situations. 

These stories resonated with me for a few reasons.

First, like many of you, I've responded to multiple attempted (and successful) suicides through the years. Some were dispatched that way, while others we had to quickly figure out after arriving on scene. Regardless of the method or situation found, these were always difficult incidents to handle.

I was always taught to stand back and wait for law enforcement, but in my experience it didn't always unfold that way.

As an example, a couple years ago my fire department responded to an attempted suicide where the involved firefighters and paramedics literally dove out the window after, and fortunately caught, a patient, without warning, made that move. They placed themselves at great risk and saved a life, but the outcome could have been different.

Finally, we've been getting more and more involved in a partnership with our police, sheriff's office, and mental health counterparts to develop and deliver trained members of a crisis intervention team, from multiple agencies and disciplines, to suicide attempts and other incidents where mental health crises are an underlying cause.

These events, while all-too-frequent, demand special attention and on-scene collaboration for a safe resolution. Even beyond the training, the relationships formed between various responders are a huge benefit to such efforts.

If you haven't done so lately, and regardless of whether or not your department "does" EMS, be sure to understand how your local law enforcement and mental health folks address these incidents — and what role you're expected to play in a response.

Stay safe!

About the author

With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel FireRescue1's editorial advisor is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.

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