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Chemical suicide causes big threat

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Members of the Local Emergency Planning District (LEPD) recently heard of a frightening new trend----chemical suicide----that is on the rise in the United States and has made its way to Missouri. The suicide method endangers not only first responders who arrivve at the scene, but area residents who may live nearby.

Four first responders went to the hospital in December of last year after being exposed to the toxic chemicals a man used to kill himself in Sugar Creek.

Barry County Emergency Management Director David Compton said those committing suicide in this manner typically tape notes to the windows of the vehicle warning first responders and good Samaritans of the toxic fumes. In the Sugar Creek case there were no such warnings.

Area first responders are now being trained in how to manage calls involving suspected chemical suicides.

"If you can smell something like mown grass, almonds, rotten eggs or a sharp chemical odor, you can figure it's a chemical suicide," Compton said. "That said, if you do smell those things, it's too late. You've been exposed."

Such instances call for a hazardous materials team to come in and recover the body and dispose of the chemicals. General personal protective equipment and some types of air purifiers are not adequate for this type of response. Compton urged LEPD members to use extra caution in cases where chemical suicide is suspected.

"If you feel there is a threat," Compton said, "call in someone with the tools and training to check it out. Don't put yourself at risk."

In other business, Compton noted that he was nearing completion on a grant request from the Chemical Emergency Preparedness Fund, which is based on Tier II funding from area businesses. Those funds are used to assist in planning and training activities.

Compton also reported that the LEPD was sending a request to the Missouri Emergency Response Commission (MERC) requesting training classes for municipal and rural firefighters. Those classes cover technicians, operations, awareness and chemical recognition, among others.

"Barry and Lawrence counties have a good number of firefighters getting trained under these grants," Compton said. "Five years ago, many of the rural firefighters didn't even have fire fundamentals, which is basically how to hold a hose. I would say that approximately 50 percent of our volunteer firefighters now have Firefighter I and II training."

Holly Johnston, Region D Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) coordinator, informed LEPD members about that program. The free training educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area. The 22-hour class trains students in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations.

CERT members can assist others in their communities or workplaces following a disaster when professional responders are not immediately available to respond. Typically, CERT members can be expected to offer disaster assistance with a focus on the first 72 hours following the event.

More information on the training may be obtained and classes scheduled by calling the LEPD at 235-0200.

Compton announced that the City of Monett has offered the LEPD an office space at the Monett Judicial Center, which would offer a more secure environment for sensitive data storage and a generator back up in the event of power outages. The facility also offers an area to establish an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the event of a disaster.

Compton noted that some work needed to be done to the office space before the contents of the current office could be moved. Members authorized Compton to seek bids for the work and convene the executive committee for approval.

In local issues, Compton noted that Environmental Works, out of Springfield, had reported digging up an old fuel tank in Mt. Vernon that still contained several hundred gallons of diesel fuel. The fuel was pumped out of the tank and disposed of, and the tank was taken to a scrap yard for recycling.

The next regular meeting of the LEPD will take place at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 21 at the LEPD office located at 100 Maple St. in Monett.



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