SD&G first responders face new danger: chemical suicide

(Newswatch Group/File)

SOUTH GLENGARRY/CORNWALL – First responders in SD&G are trained for it, but rarely come face-to-face with a potentially deadly situation when someone takes their own life.

But that training came into play Sunday night after someone ended their life by chemical suicide near the Peanut Line on Cashion Road, northeast of the Glendale subdivision.

The act is also known as a “detergent suicide” because the victim mixes common household chemicals together to create lethal hydrogen sulphide gas in a confined area, such as a vehicle.

The practice reached frightening levels in Japan in 2008 and, while not that common, has crept into North America in recent years.

South Glengarry Fire Chief Vic Leroux tells Cornwall Newswatch his men and women are trained for this unique situation.

“The training scenario that firefighters South Glengarry and Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry have currently to deal with any types of hazardous material incidents. A majority of firefighters have been trained to the awareness level and currently we have an agreement with the Cornwall Hazmat provincial Level 2 team to respond at any hazardous material suspected incidents,” Leroux.

Cornwall’s Hazmat team was called to the scene in South Glengarry on Sunday night.

“It comes with training and it’s an awareness to the fact that the past practice of responding to an incident without the knowledge of that type of incident – I’d like to believe that those days are gone and we’re very cautious when we approach an incident to look at the big picture of a small scenario and I believe we’re at that level and to continue at that level. It’s not something we rush into especially the way the incidents are called in – I believe those days are long gone,” the fire chief said.

South Glengarry firefighters have two local resources that are available 24-7 for dealing with any type of post traumatic stress like dealing with suicides, Leroux said. “If a group debriefing is required we have access to that service.”

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Chief Myles Cassidy told CNW his workers receive regular bulletins and training for chemical suicides. “We have been sent training bulletins to staff regarding that particular methodology. Things to watch for – signs in the windows – the particular state of the individual, tape on the windows, those types of things,” he said.

“Our awareness levels have been heightened to that particular type of suicide attempt,” the EMS chief said.

“We have trained our medics to deal with that circumstance,” he said.

SD&G O.P.P. Const. Tylor Copeland says, like paramedics, provincial police officers receive training bulletins and videos on the most up-to-date trends.

“Any major incident our officers debrief the occurrence and we are given an opportunity to speak about the incident and if we need additional assistance it is there for us to use,” Copeland told Cornwall Newswatch.

The O.P.P. has a Critical Incident Stress Response/Peer Support Team to help its members deal with the after-effects of responding to a suicide call. “It provides linkages to the appropriate community resources with trauma and emergency services experience that is both suitable and geographically convenient,” said Copeland.

A healthy workforce is also one of the O.P.P.’s five strategic priorities.

In Sunday’s incident, officers observed the situation and then called in Hazmat. “Our officers don’t continue the investigation until the scene Is clear of harmful toxins. Once the area is deemed safe our officers investigate into the cause of death,” Copeland said.

When told about the incident by Cornwall Newswatch, EMS Chief Myles Cassidy said it was the first he had heard of it happening in SD&G.

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