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Chemical suicides present myriad threats to emergency responders

The possibility of encountering hazardous materials should be considered when responding to any incident

Editor’s Note: Chief Adam K. Thiel cautions us to be prepared on even the most benign-appearing calls, especially given the hazards at chemical-suicide scenes.

This story, and others like it recently, highlights the increasing prevalence of chemical suicide in jurisdictions across the United States.

The possibility of encountering hazardous materials should be considered when responding to any incident, no matter how “routine” or benign it might seem at the time of dispatch.

While some people who attempt suicide want you to know it, others are either ignorant of the risk to responders and bystanders, or worse, intentionally trying to take somebody with them.

There are many different ways that chemical suicide can be accomplished; it’s important to understand the various combinations and their hazards. It’s also vital to know the capabilities and availability of your nearest hazmat team.

Since these emergencies are inherently multi-disciplinary, and sometimes multi-jurisdictional, you also need to understand your law enforcement agency’s and hospital’s protocols for handling exposed and potentially contaminated patients, responders, and facilities.

Stay aware and be safe!

Adam K. Thiel is the fire commissioner and director of the Office of Emergency Management in the city of Philadelphia. Thiel previously served as a fire chief in the National Capital Region and as a state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. 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.