A recent sunny, southern California Friday afternoon that should have been a typical last day of the winter academic term turned out to be anything but at Cal Poly State University. A passerby discovered the body of a young man (later identified as a first-year student) in a vehicle parked in a busy campus parking lot. The tragedy was an apparent suicide by over-exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas. The young man had taken steps intended to keep others safe, posting signs on the inside of his vehicle windows that warned of the chemical. Along with police officers, members of our parking staff were on scene to keep pedestrians and vehicles a safe distance from the work of the hazardous materials team. It was a challenging task, as students were trying to pack their cars and leave campus for spring break.
When something like this happens, we naturally reflect on thoughts of our own families and hope to never experience such personal tragedy. We feel sadness and sympathy for both the victim and their family. On this occasion, another thought occurred to me, and it’s the purpose of this post: what if one of our parking employees initially came upon the situation? Would they have understood the potential dangers involved? Would they have reacted instinctively and opened the car door in an attempt to help the young man? We provide training on a wide variety of topics to our parking staff, but understanding and recognizing hazardous chemicals isn’t one of the topics we’ve covered in the past decade. Is it a standard training topic for your program?