Force Science News #261:

Human touch & the wounded warrior

In this issue:


I. Human touch & the wounded warrior

II. New study confirms fire risk from CEWs in flammable settings

III. Semantics issue: "Decontamination" or "clean up" after OC use?


I. Human touch & the wounded warrior


During a special debriefing at the ILEETA training conference this year, Sgt. Joseph Ferrera of the Southfield (MI) PD showed surveillance video of an elderly man who walked into the lobby of that city's police station on a quiet Sunday afternoon and started shooting a .380-cal. pistol.


Dramatic action dominates the 10-minute clip, as officers rush from adjacent offices and kill the suspect. But an important lesson is conveyed by a series of small interactions that pass almost unnoticed at the edge of the video frames.


In the brief shootout before the gunman falls, Sgt. Matt Collins is wounded in the left shoulder. With EMS en route, he's seated in a lobby chair, "in pain and scared." First aid is administered by a SWAT operator, Ofcr. Nick Cazan, who tells him: "Don't worry. I've seen a lot worse than this before."


As Collins is tended to and awaits transport, these fleeting physical exchanges take place: Collins brushes Cazan's hair with his hand...shortly after, Sgt. Gary Lask, who had terminated the suspect's threat, gently tousles Collins' hair as he walks past...moments later, Cazan puts his arm around Collins' shoulders...Collins reaches up and grips Cazan's hand for a few seconds....


None of these contacts was medically important, yet as Ferrera pointed out in his presentation, they seemed therapeutic nonetheless. Afterward, Collins told him that touching and being touched by fellow officers "just made me feel better. It had a very calming effect and reassured me that everything was going to be okay. I knew they weren't going to leave me."


Interestingly, Ferrera told Force Science News, even Cazan and Lask, who weren't wounded, recall feeling reassured and comforted by the physical contact with their injured colleague. "The human touch was remembered by all of them as being very positive in those tense and uncertain circumstances," Ferrera says.


POWER OF TOUCH. "The power of touch has deep roots in the human experience," says Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute. "Anthropologically, touching is a form of communication that predates speech. In infancy, most of us associate being touched by another person with comfort, love, and reassurance. Researchers have established that babies who are held a lot thrive better than those left alone in bassinettes.


"In a crisis, touching in universal 'safe' zones--the lower leg, hands, arms, shoulders, hair--is a physiological means of tapping into the psychology of compassion, concern, and nurturing. Between male officers, it's a gesture that can be very masculine yet very sensitive. It can be a much more profound means of communication than words.


"The fact that people who have been there are telling us that touch is beneficial is a message we should be listening to."


The stronger the emotional bond is between the toucher and the wounded warrior, the more impact the physical contact is likely to have, Lewinski says. "Being members of the same team, as compared to being perfect strangers, can make a difference. The response may also depend on the area touched, the amount of pressure applied, the physical closeness of the parties, and the severity of injury and degree of consciousness involved.


"Everyone is different, so you need to monitor the recipient for cues that your touching is acceptable and beneficial. And, of course, in aiding a wounded colleague, medical considerations--stopping bleeding, sustaining breathing--are always the primary concern."


RIGHT WORDS. What you say to a wounded officer still matters--and it should reinforce the message of reassurance you're attempting to deliver through touch.


In a training program called Verbal Trauma Control that he presents throughout North America, Brian Willis, president of Winning Mind Training and a graduate of the Force Science certification course, recommends this approach:


"If you know the wounded officer, start with calling him or her by name and then say who you are. It's important not to assume that they know who you are at that critical moment. Next, a few simple phrases can help to establish a positive mindset:


" 'The worst is over....'


" 'You are going to be okay...'


" 'More help is on the way....'


"If possible, get the injured officer involved in something, even if it's just holding a piece of equipment for you, so he feels actively engaged in his survival. And with training, you can learn how to implant suggestions in his mind that will help him reduce bleeding and control other physiological functions.


"It's important to remain calm and project confidence. It is also important to understand that the injured officer can hear what is being said even if he or she is unconscious."


The effectiveness of your words, as well as your nonverbal contact, will likely be enhanced, Lewinski says, if you can "get down on the level of the injured officer and look him or her in the eyes."


GOOD RECOVERY. The Southfield shootout turned out well for Sgt. Collins and the other officers involved, Ferrera says. Collins recovered from his injury and is back on the job, although the offender's round remains embedded in his shoulder. After he was shot, Collins was able to get off six rounds from his Glock 31, hitting the assailant three times.


Positioned closer to the offender, Sgt. Lask, a 15-year SWAT veteran who assisted Ferrera in the ILEETA debriefing, fired nine rounds in two seconds and delivered nine solid hits.


The 64-year-old gunman may have been seeking suicide by cop, Ferrera says. He had throat cancer and could no longer speak or take food or water by mouth.



II. New study confirms fire risk from CEWs in flammable settings


A man in England doused himself with gasoline in his apartment and then ignited the "petrol vapours" with a cigarette lighter and burned himself to death in a ball of fire. Two police officers armed with TASER Conducted Energy Weapons had been called to the scene by paramedics, but they were unable to deploy these devices fast enough to abort the blazing suicide.


Later a question arose: If the officers had discharged their CEWs, could that in itself have ignited the fumes, "killing the man they were trying to save, and even themselves?"


An investigator on the case, Chris Clarke, joined forces with another British forensic fire investigations expert, Stephen Andrews, to find out.


In a study recently published, they conclude that, depending on "numerous variables," the discharge of a CEW in a flammable environment "could prove fatal not only to the target but to the operator as well."


STUDY GOALS. In the paper describing their work, Clarke and Andrews cite six news stories worldwide that have reported incidents in which subjects are believed to have died from burns inflicted when CEWs were used in the presence of gasoline. "Most published research" on CEWs and flammable vapors, however, has concentrated mainly on pepper sprays and certain "explosive formulations, which are sensitive to electrical discharge."


The goals of the current study were to confirm 1) whether a TASER CEW is "capable of igniting a person who was doused" with gasoline, "one of the most hazardous chemicals the general public can come in contact with," and 2) whether CEW deployment in an enclosed room can cause a gasoline vapor explosion "which might injure or kill all occupants." On the latter question, the investigators claim, "[t]here is apparently no previous research."


TESTING VARIABLES. After some trials with laboratory "bench models," Clarke and Andrews performed a series of full-scale experiments on a "fire test dummy"--a life-sized wooden mannequin, intended as a "human target simulant." In some tests, a swatch of pig skin, which has "similar characteristics to human skin," was affixed to the dummy's chest. A polyester/cotton shirt and various pieces of clothing were also added and in some cases these were wetted slightly with saline solution "to represent a person sweating in a stressful situation."


Probes from a TASER X26 were either physically implanted or fired. Of the implanted probes, one was pierced into the dummy's "chest"; the other was pushed through the shirt fabric "above the timber surface," to represent a "clothing disconnect." The probes were moved in different configurations during the experiments, always with the goal of creating strong electrical arcing.


A final variable involved the gasoline. From 100 milliliters to 4 liters (about a gallon) of BP unleaded was doused on the mannequin's chest and allowed to vaporize from 30 to 60 seconds before the CEW was activated (suggesting time that an officer might spend trying to verbally control a suicidal subject who was intending immolation).


IGNITION RESULTS. As the variables were changed, ignition of the fuel did not always occur. But flames did break out with impressive enough reliability--sometimes in the millisecond just before fired probes even reached their target--for the researchers to conclude that the CEW "is a competent ignition source" for gasoline and "may ignite a petrol-soaked person...when fired into them."


Most dramatic were the test firings conducted inside a 20-foot shipping container, meant to simulate a typical room. Here the gasoline-soaked test dummy was hung on the rear wall and a second mannequin, representing an officer configured in the CEW-firing position, was positioned 13 feet away. A TASER bound to the "officer's" hands was activated by a cord pulled from outside the compartment.


When the CEW discharged, the room was instantly engulfed in flames. In less than 1.5 seconds, heat at the officer's head and hand level reached nearly 800 degrees Fahrenheit. "The police mannequin showed severe [burns] to about 20% total body surface area," the researchers report. (The dummy's Kevlar vest tended to protect the chest area.) For the suspect mannequin, there was "almost 100%" total body surface burned--"very probably fatal for a person if accompanied by inhalation injury."


For an officer to be safe when firing into a "vapor-rich" room, the researchers conclude, he or she would probably have to be farther away from the target than the full range of the CEW wires.


"There may be many occasions where ignition does not take place" because the necessary variables do not align within explosive limits, Clarke and Andrews explain. But trainers need to warn officers of the possible risks, they write.


"It is [our] opinion...that the only advice and training that can be given to law enforcement personnel is not to discharge TASER devices in any circumstances where the possibility of flammable vapour exists."


Atty. Michael Brave, national/international counsel for TASER International, Inc., cites this hazard warning: "CEW use can result in a fire or explosion when flammable gases, fumes, vapors, liquids, or materials are present. Use of a CEW in the presence of a fire or explosion hazard could result in death or serious injury. When possible, avoid using a CEW in known flammable hazard conditions."


For litigated incidents involving CEW-induced fire injuries, Brave suggests consulting Brown v. Burghart, 2013 WL 1334183 (E.D.Pa., Apr. 3, 2013) and Mohney v. Hageter, 2013 WL 391155 (W.D.Pa., Jan. 30, 2013).


An abstract of the Clarke-Andrews study, titled "The ignitability of petrol vapours and potential for vapour phase explosion by use of TASER law enforcement electronic control device," can be accessed free of charge at the website of the journal Science and Justice by clicking here. The full report is also available there for a fee.


Co-author Chris Clarke, a partner with Fire Investigations LLP in London, can be reached at:


Our thanks to Dr. Mark Kroll, a CEW researcher and adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota, for alerting us to this study.


III. Semantics issue: "Decontamination" or "clean up" after OC use?


Force Science News Reader Edward Gomez, a major with the Bogalusa (LA) PD, notes that in our last transmission in reporting on a study of use of force on DUI stops, reference was made to a "decontamination process" that took place after research subjects were exposed to a spray of OC.


Gomez, a 28-year LE veteran, writes: "I was told by a district attorney not to use the words 'decontamination process' in relation to OC use. Instead I was advised to just say that the subject was 'allowed to clean his or her face.' According to the DA, saying 'decontamination' suggests you have contaminated the suspect, but OC is not something that contaminates anyone."


Any thoughts on this from other attorneys, trainers, or officers? E-mail us at:

© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.