Attacks by the squirting or throwing of corrosive fluids into the face are frequently reported at the moment so it’s worth spending some time discussing what to do if either we or a colleague should become injured in this way. For the point of this blogg I’m going to talk in terms of you being a lone officer victim because that’s the worst-case scenario, but you can vary the actions as necessary if you instead find yourself assisting an injured colleague or indeed are first at the scene where a member of the public has been attacked. I have put the proposed actions in order but, of course, the very nature of a situation like this will mean that it’s never going to be that simple – let’s face it, you’re going to be in excruciating pain, possibly temporarily blinded, while trying to do a lot of things at once. Keep at the front of your mind, however, your overriding aim which is to have those acid wounds diluted with clean water within one minute of contact with the skin if at all possible – that’s your best chance of escaping serious injury. (Note. Be aware, however, that some chemicals react badly to water as opposed to allow themselves to be diluted by them. The only reason I’m mentioning this is that, if I didn’t, I would no-doubt receive a squillion emails from people pointing out the admission. Personally, if I were attacked, I will always follow the universal first aid advice for acid burns and look to dilute the substance with copious amounts of clean water; whether I had the inclination in that confused, chaotic situation to have my helpers ‘test’ the acid with water to see whether it sizzles as opposed to dilutes – and whether anyone is going to be able to magic up the correct antidote for that particular – unknown – acid is another matter. Again, if it happened to me, I would be calling for the water … and lots of it).
One. “… Priority, Priority, Priority …!”
Push the emergency button on your radio and call for assistance – the basics – Where you are, What you’ve got, What you need, which in this case is urgent help from colleagues and an ambulance, but keep it brief and clear – let the Control Room join up the dots as there’s lots of other things you need to be doing straight away and we all know how some radio operators do like probing for the most marginal of information at the wrong moment.
Two. Ask Yourself; Do I Need To Move To Safety?
Let’s face it, you’re going to be in awful pain and desperate to give yourself first-aid but take the briefest of moments to consider – Do I need to reposition myself to be safer? Is whoever attacked me going to do it again now that I have little chance of defending myself? Or is someone else, unconnected with the attack, going to give me a kicking just because I’m police and they can get away with it? If you’re temporally blinded then try to find out what’s happening by calling out ‘Have they gone?’ Someone’s going to tell you. Then think to yourself, where could I reasonably get to where I would be safer? It might not be far. Being inside a shop with the door bolted a few yards away might be better than being on the pavement where you have just been attacked. And there could be help there – and water to dilute your burns. If you’re blinded then get someone to lead you to this place – it may only take seconds.
Three. Shout “I Need Lots And Lots Of Water …!”
Call out to anyone that’s around for water – loads of it – so you can dilute the acid; this will probably take them time to sort out so shout for it early so that you can do other stuff whilst waiting for it to be produced.
Four. Shout Out For Someone To Seize The Container.
This could be very important as it may show medical staff what the chemical was so that they can tailor your treatment – and of course it’s direct forensic evidence of the attack on you.
Five. If The Acid’s Dry And Powdery On Your Skin Then Try To Brush It Off.
But use something other than your hand as you don’t want that becoming burnt as well. Call out for some member of the public to give you a small piece of clothing – maybe a shirt or handkerchief – which you can use to lightly dust the affected area but remember to dust or brush as opposed to wipe as the action of wiping might instead just spread the acid as opposed to removing it. Lean over as you’re brushing so that the acidy substance falls to the ground away from you.
Six. Remove Clothing When Safe To Do So.
Members of the public who suffer acid attacks are advised to remove clothing sprayed with the substance and, ideally, you will want to do that too. But what about your stab-vest? Are you still in danger? Are you going to need its protection? If you feel you’re safe then get the vest off because acid might have become trapped at the neck or, once you have people pouring water on you to dilute the substance, it might gather there or seep under the armoured plates.
Seven. Don’t Let Them Pull Clothing Over Your Head.
This could displace more acid onto your skin which had been trapped within your clothing. Have them pull the clothing AWAY from you and cut if off. Warn whoever’s removing your clothing to cover their hands with something to protect them from the acid – ideally some protective gloves, but these probably won’t be available, so they will have to improvise. If they want to help you they will figure it out.
Eight. Lots And Lots And Lots Of Water – But Control This.
Have them POUR water over the areas where the acid has burnt the skin BUT CONTROL THEM AS THEY DO THIS. If some overeager member of the public throws a bucket of water over you or sticks a powerful hose in your face it’s likely to cause more harm than good – acid near the eye might be forced into the eye, acid near the mouth forced into the mouth and down your throat, other skin previously unharmed, might get splattered with displaced acid. Don’t let them get close with water until you’ve explained what you want them to do and have got yourself into a position where the diluted acid will be able to pour off your skin to somewhere where it’s going to do no further harm. If the acid is over your face, then lean far forward so that the water runs off your skin onto the ground as opposed to down your neck and chest. If the acid has only burnt one side of your face, then angle it so that the water will pour off the affected area without burning the undamaged areas. Be very careful with eyes – water used for diluting acid should flow away to the side of the head as opposed to pooling in that area between the inner corner of the eye and the nose. This all sounds obvious to us because we have had first-aid training but the majority of the public haven’t been instructed in this way and so these concepts might not occur to them.
Nine. Ideally, Clean Water
If at all possible, make sure that they’re using clean water – dirty water could introduce all kinds of infections to your damaged skin whilst other types of fluids might react badly with whatever chemical has been sprayed upon you.
Ten. Keep The Water Coming.
Tell them how you need lots and lots of water so they’ve got to keep it coming for as long as it takes for the ambulance service to arrive and that even when the paramedics turn up they’ll be asking for yet more water as well. In general terms water needs to be poured onto the affected area for at least twenty minutes. Keep reminding them how you need them to POUR the water carefully over the affected areas of skin.
And All This Time …Take Control And Give Direction.
Whoever is helping you could be shocked with what’s just occurred in front of them, you’re going to look a fearful mess and the chances are you’re in a dodgy neighbourhood where it’s not good to be seen openly helping the police. Keep on engaging and giving direction until help arrives. Anticipate that they may be tempted to leave, be reluctant or fearful of being a witness or even be bored with helping you after the initial excitement. Use your policing skills to engage as best as you can, continuously impress on them the need to keep the water flowing and how it needs to be done for at least twenty minutes. Tell them your first name, ask them theirs and thank them for helping you – it’s all simple stuff but might be just enough to make that connection and keep them helping you at the time you really need it.