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October 06, 2004
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Fire is a Possibility When Using Alcohol-Based Pepper Spray With Tasers

PoliceOne cautions law enforcement to be aware of the possibility of fire when using alcohol-based pepper spray in conjunction with Tasers.

PoliceOne recommends that departments that are using Tasers review the type of pepper spray they are using, and to contact either Taser or the pepper spray manufacturer with any questions.

"There is a potential chance for alcohol-based spray igniting," said Sgt. Herbert Ashford, a Dallas defense tactics supervisor who teaches new officers how to use pepper spray. "It''s a small chance, but it''s a possibility."

Because of this small possibility, the Dallas Police Department has ordered $13,000 worth of new pepper spray after commanders determined that their current mixture might burst into flames when used with the electric stun guns officers soon will be using.

In August, Dallas City Council members approved Police Chief David Kunkle''s request to buy 400 Taser stun guns - 50 immediately for $41,894 and the other $380,000 in guns in the next budget year. The new guns are locked up until the new spray is handed out, officials said.

Officers won''t be losing any "stopping" power with the new mixture, he said.

"As far as the hotness of the spray, it''s the same," he said. "The effectiveness of any pepper spray varies. It affects individuals differently. Their mucous membranes might not react, or they might have a higher tolerance for pain."

Fire is still a hazard using nonflammable pepper spray.

In late August, police in Fredericksburg, Va., sprayed and then used a Taser on a 29-year-old man who had grabbed an officer''s gun in a struggle during a traffic stop. After the electricity hit the suspect, his hair burst into flames. Still violently struggling with one officer, another shot him dead.

"The pepper spray was water-based, it doesn''t burn," said Officer Jim Shelhorse, a Fredericksburg police spokesman. "They think that fire was the result of something in his hair. He had long curly hair. We haven''t gotten anything back from the lab."

He said the flaming hair was the first such incident since his department began using Tasers about a year ago. They''ve used water-based pepper spray for several years.

"We think it''s safe to use them together," he said. "The guys that use them on the street think they are a valuable tool."

Sgt. Ashford said that in the Dallas tests, a dummy was sprayed with the new pepper mixture while being hit with the stun gun. "It didn''t produce a flame," he said.

But there is an inherent risk in any defensive tactic officers might employ, he said.

"You might have an unruly guy and he''s a painter and might have paint thinner on him. If an officer [uses a Taser on him], he might catch on fire."

Testing of nonflammable sprays began in April as officials were considering Tasers.

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