This blog post is an area of policing I don’t normally blog about, but it is one that I have a strong professional interest in. I have been a Police CBRN responder for a number of years and an instructor for 7 or 8.
All information in this blog post is drawn from open sources.
On Thursday a five star hotel in the centre of Edinburgh was closed following what the press are describing as a Cyanide Suicide Pact.
The phenomena of chemical suicide has become increasingly popular in the UK, having come to these shores from Japan via the USA across the Internet. The PowerPoint available here details the journey from Japan across to the USA. The first documented chemical suicide pact in the UK was in Essex in 2010, since they have spread across the country.
A simple Google search produces instructions on what chemicals to use and how to mix them to create a noxious environment. Pre-cursor chemicals are generally over the counter products such as drain cleaner and fungicide which are mixed together, although sometimes gases like helium and carbon monoxide are used as asphyxiants.
This presents a real risk to first responders – police, fire and ambulance. The favoured mixture of chemicals produce Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) or Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN), both of which are highly toxic. Chemical suicides tend to take place in confined spaces – cars, bathrooms – to produce higher, more toxic concentrations, but increasing the danger and risk to those discovering or dealing with the incident (see here). I have been unable to find UK stats for first responders injured in chemical suicides/attempts (if anyone has any please get in touch) but documents on the Internet suggest 4 out of 5 incidents result in injury to first responders or innocent members of the public. A recent case in Fife, Scotland, led to a member of the public and two police officers being taken to hospital after a male killed himself using Sodium Cyanide.
There is a considerable amount of advice on the Internet for to assist first responders with chemical suicides, generally from US police and fire departments. this one from the Saline County Criminal Justice Training Centre provides a comprehensive overview including the history and advice for responders identifying hazards and responding to incidents. This Coffee Break Training bulletin from the United States Fire Administration proves a useful Aide Memoir.