Trics of the Trade: New Hazmat Threat Comes to the US

A popular means of suicide, is there such a thing? Well apparently there is now.In the first six months of 2008, the press reports that in Japan more than 500 people have killed themselves using hydrogen sulfide created by mixing chemicals commonly...

Hydrogen sulfide dissolves in water to make a solution that is weakly acidic. So what do we do? Know your enemy. When responding to incidents, especially suicides, be aware of the possibility of hydrogen sulfide gas. You leave the rig and someone comes up to you stating that they feel dizzy or perhaps nausea, and they have a slight smell of rotten eggs, what do you suspect. As you get on the rig, you read the dispatch ticket and it states "unusual odor throughout bldg. Multiple persons sick", you got your first clue.

Remember we may need to evacuate, this is a highly flammable gas with properties that make it heavier than air. The vapors may travel along the ground finding a source of ignition and flash back. The gas may collect in a basement, sewage system or a ravine. And most importantly, our fire fighting gear offers only limited protection, it is not effective in a spill situation or where direct contact with the chemical will be made.

An interesting diagnostic clue of extreme poisoning by H2S is the discoloration of copper coins in the pockets of the victim.

Speak to the members at roll call and company drills. Discuss the properties of this gas and make everyone aware of the necessary changes in tactics to increase our survivability. Expect the unexpected. Stay focused. Transmit the proper codes to get the hazmat team on scene and have the proper meters available.

Have everyone in SCBA, and if it's a large operation, like, perhaps an apartment building, transmit additional alarms or call for mutual aide early, and don't forget the apparatus that supplies or refills the SCBA.

Should you have an encounter with a suspicious incident involving Hydrogen Sulfide notify the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. You can find them on their websites.

In closing I would like to leave you with a thougth to ponder, a buildup of hydrogen sulfide in the atmosphere may have caused the massive extinction event on our planet 252 million years ago. This is just one more...Tric of the Trade.

TONY TRICARICO, a Contributing Editor, is a captain with the FDNY and is assigned to the Special Operations Command at Squad 252. A 32-year veteran of the fire service and a past chief of Mount Sinia Fire Department in NY, he is a nationally certified instructor and teaches at the FDNY Technical Rescue School, Suffolk County Fire Academy and around the county. To read Tony's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. You can reach Tony by e-mail at