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Officials explain cautious rescue

Climbing electric pole to save man who hanged self too dangerous

Posted: August 2, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 2, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Los Angeles County Fire Department's Quint 126 is stationed at the scene where a man hanged himself from a utility pole in Newhall Avenue in Newhall on Saturday.

 

A man who hanged himself from a utility pole last weekend could not have been rescued by someone simply climbing up the pole and grabbing him, according to utility, fire and law enforcement officials responding to the suggestion.


Representatives speaking for each of the emergency agencies that responded Saturday say rescuers could have been electrocuted had they attempted a physical rescue.


The man, whose name still had not been released Wednesday, hanged himself from a utility pole behind a strip mall on the west side of Newhall Avenue.


When deputies arrived they found the shirtless man perched atop the old wooden pole — the type affixed with metal ladder-like foot grips that lead to the top.


Climbing up the pole and simply grabbing the man is anything but simple and, according to each of the responding agencies, problematic.


The primary concern for Los Angeles County firefighters is the safety of all involved, according to fire Capt. Mark Savage, including not only the safety of the man on the pole, but the safety of rescuers.

Safety First
With 16,000 volts running through the utility pole wires, simply “grabbing him” could have injured or killed the rescuer, Savage said.


“We don’t want to put rescuers into a dangerous situation where they could be injured or killed,” Savage said.
“The number one option for responders is negotiation,” he said. “Any action by the Fire Department or law enforcement if it’s an aggressive action or otherwise could, in fact, be the pivotal thing to make him decide to injure himself.”


Safety is also paramount to deputies responding from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, an official said.


Negotiation, according to Lt. Margarito Robles, is key to resolving the type of life-threatening situation that presented itself Saturday on Newhall Avenue.


“We received the call at 11:29 a.m. The first unit arrived at 11:49 a.m.,” Robles said.


Deputies quickly realized they needed a Spanish-speaking negotiator, he said.


“We requested a Crisis Negotiating Team,” Robles said. “It’s Saturday afternoon. We have to locate them at home.”


A Spanish-speaking negotiator arrived at the scene at exactly 12:01 p.m., Robles said.
At 12:10 p.m., the man hanged himself.


Rescue options considered by fire officials — over and beyond simply “grabbing the man” — included a ladder rescue and perhaps positioning a rescue air bag underneath the suicidal man, Savage said.


Since the utility pole was at the top of a steep, dry embankment, a rescue attempt using either one of these techniques was ruled out — the aerial truck ladder could not reach the man and the slope made it impractical for the air bag.


Attempting a rescue by either one of these alternatives, however, was a moot point, Savage said, since any overt rescue effort might be interpreted by the suicidal man as aggressive or threatening and could have provoked him into making a rash decision.


Negotiation is key, he said.


Making sure nothing interferes with that process — including any overt rescue effort — was of paramount importance in the situation Saturday, he said.


Southern California Edison work crews cut the power to the pole around 12:30 p.m. and the body was removed about 1:45 p.m.


The suicidal man was pronounced dead at 1:47 p.m. that day by paramedics, according to Investigator Dana Bee of the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Department.


Although the man has been identified, the coroner is still trying to notify his next of kin, who are believed to be in Mexico.

Electrocution Risk
An autopsy revealed he died of asphyxiation due to neck compression caused by a ligature, commonly viewed as strangulation.


Rudy Gonzales, Southern California Edison region manager, said the suicidal man who was crawling on wires and a transformer before hanging himself could have been electrocuted holding onto “live wires” carrying 16,000 volts.
Simply “grabbing the man” could have injured or killed any rescuer who completes an electrical circuit by making contact with a person connected to 16,000 volts, he said.


“If someone were to make contact with the lines and they were grounded, they could have 16,000 volts running through them,” he said.


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