Sunday, September 14, 2014

Before Help Arrives: Simple emergency tool saves lives on the highway

   One nightmare scenario involves a vehicle bursting into flames following a crash and the driver or occupant struggling to unlock a seat belt as smoke and flames quickly overcome them. Another is witnessing another driver trapped in a vehicle as you or other would-be samaritans pound and bang unsuccessfully on the window trying to extract an occupant. These nightmares may vary, but they all involve the inability to get out of the vehicle quickly in an emergency.

   Properly equipped and trained first responders can often remove an entire windshield in minutes and, if need be, pry open doors or completely remove the vehicle roof with tools commonly known as the “Jaws of Life”. but for the RV'r or or other drivers on the road a simple tool can often be the difference between life or death.

   A seat belt cutter and emergency window punch tool sure comes in handy. Readily available at most stores like Walmart or online are a variety of combined belt cutter and window punch tools that can be mounted in plain sight in your vehicle or RV or kept handy in an easily reached compartment. Once in place, it can be quickly accessed either to assist another motorist on the highway or even to help escape your own vehicle when the worst happens.

   On one end is a hammer-like head with pointy metal strikers where you’d otherwise expect a flat hammer face for pounding in nails.  This allows even the weakest among us to apply enough focused force on a vehicle window to instantly shatter it into thousands of small pieces and allow access to the occupant, or for the occupant to reach the outside.

   The tool is effective only for side windows -- those that offer the best access for either rescue or escape. Modern vehicle front windshields are essentially two safety glass panes of glass sandwiched around an inner plastic like material designed to keep the windshield intact in case it is similarly struck while driving. All modern side windows, however, will shatter with one or two strikes with the tool.

   Once the window is no longer an obstacle, potential rescuers may be faced with wasting precious seconds searching for a seat belt release with a variety of release options. With the belt cutter, used in a similar fashion as most letter openers, belts can be quickly sliced. This is a particularly helpful tool with child restraints.

   We’ve all seen the online videos of motorists coming to the aid of others on the highway, especially those that have a happy ending.  What we don’t often see, but are the usual outcome too many times, are those where all efforts fail and drivers die while still seated in the vehicle.  In some cases, it could have been merely the difference of a few seconds for either rescuers or occupant, where the right tool in the right place could have made a difference.

   Whether you can, or should, help a motorist in such a situation is a decision only you can make. (A subject for another post) If you do choose to act, or wish to give yourself an extra edge -- get one of these tools for every vehicle you drive.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Visiting Fireman on 9-11

  Now retired from the fire department since ’96, each year at this time since 9-11 I’ve always tried to make it back to my home town of Des Plaines, IL for a city or department led observance of the day.  A couple of years it was enough to stop by the station and have a cup of coffee with the crew for awhile and then move on.

   This year I wasn’t able to drive down for either and instead stopped by the local Oconomowoc, WI Fire Department’s Station 2 this morning to at least observe the modest ceremony they had planned. Just spending even a few moments of that particular day on Fire Department soil still remains important, even 13 years after.

   The local department, though small in number, had raised a flag high over the station on their elevated platform, and the Chief made a few eloquent remarks about both the tragedy of that day and the reverence reserved for the day annually by the fire service. Reading a short poem, or listing a few statistics could not cover up the occasional interruption caused as emotion made it difficult to speak.  A reporter earlier asked why the department had this ceremony each year, and the Chief responded, “Well, I can give you 343 reasons right now,” and then explained further.

   As a retired firefighter, and one of only two or three non-department observers, I was invited to line up along with less than a dozen active firefighters who were on hand for the ceremony.  The Chief began reading the names of the 343 firefighters who had lost their lives at Ground Zero, and after reading a page of names handed the list to the next person in line who continued for a page soon passing the list on to the next, and so on.

   I was deeply honored to have been part of the line of readers and did my part reading the names, ranks and duty assignment of a page full of firefighters I had never met, yet considered brothers. It was, perhaps, one of the most moving opportunities I’ve had on an already emotionally-charged date.

It was a small ceremony, and a relatively short one — though it seemed long due to the cold brisk wind that swept across us on the ramp — but it was a necessary one. And I was deeply grateful to be there.