Are chemical suicides a ‘growing risk’ for first responders?

As soon as I get in my car heading for work I am assuming some risk.  The difference when I get to work than some others is I took an oath to help and protect others, even if it meant getting in harms way and assuming more risk than someone else.

A headline caught my attention today: ‘Chemical Suicides growing risk to first responders‘.  Does data support this claim?  The news piece covers another tragic loss of life by someone obviously at the end of their rope, who was not able to get help, who decided to end their life by inhaling a chemical mixture.  The unfortunate victim appears to be courteous to all around and put up signs warning others to stay clear either to ensure their own demise or as a last act of compassion for others we will never know.

Fact:  The chemicals created during a chemical suicide can be harmful enough to kill.

Fact: The toxic atmosphere created during a chemical suicide has the potential to hurt or kill someone without the proper personal protective gear and training.

Fact:  Not every chemical suicide victim should be assumed deceased.

Ultimately as first responders it is a personal choice from the day we accept the badge.  During our career it is also a personal choice on fitness, training, and keeping current on tactics and strategy.  Here are some articles, videos, webinar, and more from my experiences with this ‘growing risk’.

Check out previous articles on chemical suicide response:

Check out my Fire Engineering Webinar and get CE credit here: Firefighter Rescue in a HazMat Webinar

Find more on my FDIC presentation for 2019 here: Hazmat hot zone rescues: How to tell mythical monsters from real threats

Still have questions? Here’s my full-length feature article explaining why this issue is so important to first responders and how they can think differently about these scenarios.

‘If the rule of thumb is your comfort zone – stay there.   For me, I will always maintain my fitness for response and be ready for the grab’

While fear of the unknown can keep us safe. It is our duty as firefighters and medics to understand how to protect ourselves against the storm and when to hunker down in shelter.

Ambrose FDIC 2019

About The Author

Phil Ambrose founded his company HazSim in 2011 and joined the Glendale (Calif.) Fire Department in 2001, where he serves as a fire captain, a paramedic and a hazmat specialist. Additionally, he spent eight years as a hazardous materials expert with UCLA. He also earned the FBI’s Exceptional Public Service Award for his work on their hazardous materials response team. Phil has taught on this subject at FDIC since 2017.


  1. The gases generated are easily dealt with via ventilation. But the generator is the HAZMAT risk. We have seen victims fingers fall into the acid and decompose.

    So grabbing the victim without touching the chemical generator is OK, especially if viable. In not viable, unsure, or the generator is in the way, wait.

    Like confined space rescue, we fail if rescuers fall victim.

    • Phil - HazMatNation

      Brian – absolutely correct. Viability is the key as well as just having a plan. Standing back and watching is ok as long as every option was examined.

  2. We just had a chemical suicide this morning. Victim rescued, transported. Team was split to monitor ER, as well as mitigate the chemical mix.

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