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Review your hazmat guidelines

Editor's note: In response to the story "Dead man found in car causes stir for Pa. EMTs" , Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh reminds us how to stay safe in any hazmat situation.

There has been an increasing scrutiny of chemical-based suicides. By their very nature, these situations are volatile and present unknown potential for widespread damage or injuries, beyond the suicide itself. It makes sense for emergency responders to exercise significant caution when approaching these types of situations.

Follow your generally accepted guidelines, as you would with any hazardous materials event:

1) Review your policies and procedures on how to manage any type of hazardous materials incident. Participate in pre-planning exercises and keep your own level of preparation ready at all times.

2) As soon as you recognize the potential for a hazardous event exists, ensure the safety of yourself and your crew. Retreat to a point where you are out of danger. If you are not sure, continue to retreat until you are.

3) Isolate the event as quickly as possible. Establish a wide perimeter and do not let anyone enter. There is an old rule of thumb: With one eye closed, if you can't cover your view of the scene with one thumb, you are too close. While this may not be perfect, it gives you an idea of how wide of an area to cordon off. At night, it has to be even larger.

4) Notify appropriate agencies quickly. Your local policies and protocols should provide you guidance of who to contact.

5) Remember that being up hill, up wind and up stream is a good place to park your resources and command post.

6) Spectators should not be close. Frankly, they should not be within view of the incident! Utilize law enforcement resources to create a very wide perimeter so that public safety is ensured.

7) Only personnel who are specifically trained and equipped to manage the hot zone should be there. Stick to policies and procedures for managing patients in the warm and cold zones.

8) Be aware of any decontamination processes, along with rehabilitation issues. Top tier suits are heavy, awkward and hot. The chances of fatigue, dehydration and heat-related issues exist, regardless of environment. Make sure enough medical resources are available to the rescuers, as well as unintended victims.

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