I had an interesting call tonight. A woman calls from a residence stating that she thinks her roommate is trying to cook meth. She tells the 911 operator that he is heating acid on the kitchen stove, lots of noxious smoke is in the house, and she and/or someone else inside the residence is having problems breathing. Dispatch sends three units plus the fire department is also responding.
Seems pretty straightforward, right? Not so fast.
Think about it. Meth production is a deadly undertaking. Nasty things like phosphene gas are common by-products of methamphetamine production. Police officers walking into that environment can become very dead, very quick. Us beat cops can’t just walk in there…we would likely become victims also.
So, the solution is: the firefighters with their respirators and haz-mat gear go in and get the ‘victims’ out. Well, not really. Remember folks making meth tend to be violent criminals. They like to fight, have guns, and are generally anti-social. Firefighters going into that situation are in danger from the victims.
What is the solution? Pre-planning, flexibility, and a great deal of cooperation between agencies.
Working out the possible responses with the likely responders (PD and FD, for example) ahead of time, is a really smart move. This allows everyone to critically think through possible problems, iron out differences in policies between agencies, and gives everyone a baseline to work from when they get on scene.
What kind of training and equipment do the beat officers and other first responders need when they arrive on scene? Figure out what resources and skills you need…and are reasonably expected to be available…and work up a plan. The world’s best equipped and trained clan-lab team is worthless in the situation I responded to if they are 30 minutes or more away. The people inside will be long dead before they pull on the first leg of their nomex suit.
The DEA and regional drug task forces offer training in clan-lab response. Sending a few selected police officers and fire fighters to these classes can give them the information they need to design a workable response plan.
However, the guys on the ground have to be flexible and willing to cooperate to get the job done.
In my call, the firefighters were willing to work with us and we got the call done as safely as possible under the conditions. Was it perfectly safe? Nope, and that is what we work on for next time.
Richard is a police officer with a medium sized, central Florida department, and previously worked for a Metro-Atlanta agency. He has served as a field training officer, court officer, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, watch commander, commander of a field training and evaluation program, and general pain in the butt to management-types looking to cut training hours.