As a first responder who has been called to the scene of a chemical suicide, I wanted to share some of my experience regarding “Chemical Suicides a Danger to EMS” (ACEP News, October 2011, p. 1). These types of suicides have been around for years, starting in Japan, and we had two last year and one this year in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, all involving hydrogen sulfide. While the article said that these suicides are often in a car in an open area, two of the chemical suicides here were in a garage, where the enclosed area keeps the chemicals in a higher concentration. The third was in a car sitting in the middle of an intersection.
Explore This IssueACEP News: Vol 31 – No 04 – April 2012
In my experience, a sure sign of a hydrogen sulfide suicide is that the victim will be wearing some type of eye protection, such as goggles (because hydrogen sulfide burns the eyes), and the air conditioner vents will be taped. Blowing an individual off with a fan, as described in the article, doesn’t work with hydrogen sulfide because it is a very heavy gas. These individuals have to be disrobed and rinsed with water (hydrogen sulfide is water soluble). Also, this gas is unique in that it fools our gas-detection instruments into thinking it is something else when in high concentrations.
The physicians quoted in the article said this suicide method is time-consuming to plan and the chemicals are hard to find. However, the chemicals can be found at local hardware stores, and directions on how to mix the chemicals can be quickly found on the Internet, along with a template for signs to warn first responders. These warning signs are usually displayed both inside and outside the vehicle and garage, as these people are not out to injure the responders, but in the case this year, the individual did not have enough time to post all of the signs before death.
Steve Harris, LT
Dallas Fire Rescue/Hazmat