New Study Confirms Fire Risk From CEWs In Flammable Settings

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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.”


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.”


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).


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: chris.clarke@fireinvestigationsuk.com.

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.

Leave a Reply


  • Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Effective date: January 06, 2019

Force Science Institute, Ltd. (“us”, “we”, or “our”) operates the https://www.forcescience.org/ website (hereinafter referred to as the “Service”).

This page informs you of our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data when you use our Service and the choices you have associated with that data. Our Privacy Policy for Force Science Institute, Ltd. is based on the Privacy Policy Template from Privacy Policies.

We use your data to provide and improve the Service. By using the Service, you agree to the collection and use of information in accordance with this policy. Unless otherwise defined in this Privacy Policy, the terms used in this Privacy Policy have the same meanings as in our Terms and Conditions, accessible from https://www.forcescience.org/

Information Collection And Use

We collect several different types of information for various purposes to provide and improve our Service to you.

Types of Data Collected

Personal Data

While using our Service, we may ask you to provide us with certain personally identifiable information that can be used to contact or identify you (“Personal Data”). Personally identifiable information may include, but is not limited to:

  • Email address
  • First name and last name
  • Phone number
  • Address, State, Province, ZIP/Postal code, City
  • Cookies and Usage Data

Usage Data

We may also collect information on how the Service is accessed and used (“Usage Data”). This Usage Data may include information such as your computer’s Internet Protocol address (e.g. IP address), browser type, browser version, the pages of our Service that you visit, the time and date of your visit, the time spent on those pages, unique device identifiers and other diagnostic data.

Tracking & Cookies Data

We use cookies and similar tracking technologies to track the activity on our Service and hold certain information.

Cookies are files with small amount of data which may include an anonymous unique identifier. Cookies are sent to your browser from a website and stored on your device. Tracking technologies also used are beacons, tags, and scripts to collect and track information and to improve and analyze our Service.

You can instruct your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, if you do not accept cookies, you may not be able to use some portions of our Service. You can learn more how to manage cookies in the Browser Cookies Guide.

Examples of Cookies we use:

  • Session Cookies. We use Session Cookies to operate our Service.
  • Preference Cookies. We use Preference Cookies to remember your preferences and various settings.
  • Security Cookies. We use Security Cookies for security purposes.

Use of Data

Force Science Institute, Ltd. uses the collected data for various purposes:

  • To provide and maintain the Service
  • To notify you about changes to our Service
  • To allow you to participate in interactive features of our Service when you choose to do so
  • To provide customer care and support
  • To provide analysis or valuable information so that we can improve the Service
  • To monitor the usage of the Service
  • To detect, prevent and address technical issues

Transfer Of Data

Your information, including Personal Data, may be transferred to — and maintained on — computers located outside of your state, province, country or other governmental jurisdiction where the data protection laws may differ than those from your jurisdiction.

If you are located outside United States and choose to provide information to us, please note that we transfer the data, including Personal Data, to United States and process it there.

Your consent to this Privacy Policy followed by your submission of such information represents your agreement to that transfer.

Force Science Institute, Ltd. will take all steps reasonably necessary to ensure that your data is treated securely and in accordance with this Privacy Policy and no transfer of your Personal Data will take place to an organization or a country unless there are adequate controls in place including the security of your data and other personal information.

Disclosure Of Data

Legal Requirements

Force Science Institute, Ltd. may disclose your Personal Data in the good faith belief that such action is necessary to:

  • To comply with a legal obligation
  • To protect and defend the rights or property of Force Science Institute, Ltd.
  • To prevent or investigate possible wrongdoing in connection with the Service
  • To protect the personal safety of users of the Service or the public
  • To protect against legal liability

Security Of Data

The security of your data is important to us, but remember that no method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage is 100% secure. While we strive to use commercially acceptable means to protect your Personal Data, we cannot guarantee its absolute security.

Service Providers

We may employ third party companies and individuals to facilitate our Service (“Service Providers”), to provide the Service on our behalf, to perform Service-related services or to assist us in analyzing how our Service is used.

These third parties have access to your Personal Data only to perform these tasks on our behalf and are obligated not to disclose or use it for any other purpose.


We may use third-party Service Providers to monitor and analyze the use of our Service.

  • Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. Google uses the data collected to track and monitor the use of our Service. This data is shared with other Google services. Google may use the collected data to contextualize and personalize the ads of its own advertising network.You can opt-out of having made your activity on the Service available to Google Analytics by installing the Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on. The add-on prevents the Google Analytics JavaScript (ga.js, analytics.js, and dc.js) from sharing information with Google Analytics about visits activity.For more information on the privacy practices of Google, please visit the Google Privacy & Terms web page: https://policies.google.com/privacy?hl=en

Links To Other Sites

Our Service may contain links to other sites that are not operated by us. If you click on a third party link, you will be directed to that third party’s site. We strongly advise you to review the Privacy Policy of every site you visit.

We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies or practices of any third party sites or services.

Children’s Privacy

Our Service does not address anyone under the age of 18 (“Children”).

We do not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from anyone under the age of 18. If you are a parent or guardian and you are aware that your Children has provided us with Personal Data, please contact us. If we become aware that we have collected Personal Data from children without verification of parental consent, we take steps to remove that information from our servers.

Changes To This Privacy Policy

We may update our Privacy Policy from time to time. We will notify you of any changes by posting the new Privacy Policy on this page.

We will let you know via email and/or a prominent notice on our Service, prior to the change becoming effective and update the “effective date” at the top of this Privacy Policy.

You are advised to review this Privacy Policy periodically for any changes. Changes to this Privacy Policy are effective when they are posted on this page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, please contact us:

  • By email: support@forcescience.org
  • By visiting this page on our website: https://www.forcescience.org/contact
  • By phone number: 866-683-1944
  • By mail: Force Science Institute, Ltd.