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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Hazmat suicide: What would you have done?

A case like this often points out the limitation of response plans

By Arthur Hsieh

Editor's note: The emergency room at a Florida hospital was temporarily shut down Sunday morning after a man who had attempted suicide vomited up poison, sickening three paramedics. Art Hsieh takes a look at the unusual hazmat issue for responders.

What would you do in this situation? Based solely on the information provided in the article, I'm fairly sure I would've ended up in the same situation as the medics did.

I looked up my EMS system's protocols on how to handle such an event, and not surprisingly there were no specific protocols for emergency vehicles carrying a hazardous materials incident on board.

Armchair quarterbacking this incident, once it became evident that something was going wrong, I might have made the decision to divert the unit from wherever we were to a location that could be isolated, call for assistance and wait to be decontaminated.

There would be the dilemma of whether to treat the patient while waiting for hazmat assistance, or retreat from the patient for safety concerns.

Overall, a bit of a sticky wicket; a case like this often points out the limitation of response plans and the emphasis that such documents serve to simply provide guidance, and not specific instructions for every type of situation.
This case also points out how quickly an incident can deteriorate and become a major risk to both rescuers and patients.

Fortunately it appears that everyone escaped with minimal harm.

About the author

EMS1 Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. Since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at an EMS service in Northern California. Contact Art at
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