Like many fire departments, we are preparing for October Fire Prevention Week. We are gathering coloring books, plastic fire helmets, materials, and giveaways that can help educate and prepare our community for a variety of emergency situations. Interacting with my neighbors and talking about fire safety is one of my favorite parts of being a firefighter. Not only can I teach about safety, but I learn a whole lot.
As I prepare for this event, I have been looking for ways to engage every age group. Since our fire department, like most, responds to a wide range of emergency situations, there is so much more than fire safety we can share with our community. One of the ideas was to get glass punches and seatbelt cutters to distribute to those teenagers who are just beginning to drive. I thought this was a fantastic idea, so I began researching which ones are the best. What I learned clearly demonstrates the bittersweet part of any safety feature.
There are two main types of glass used in vehicles today: tempered and laminated. Tempered glass shatters easily with a punch and breaks into smaller pieces that interlock and don’t readily fall out, but are easily pushed out. It makes escape easier. It can still be harmful, so safety precautions should be taken if possible to protect hands, eyes, and arms. Throwing a blanket over someone in the vehicle near the window will help protect from abrasions. Of course, life safety is the first priority, so take precautions that make sense. The downside of tempered glass is that in a rollover, it can shatter easily and be an ejection hazard even for those wearing seatbelts.
Laminated glass has been used off and on since the 1930’s to help in preventing passengers being killed or severely injured from being ejected or partially ejected from a vehicle. In 1992, studies found the most frequent path of ejection from a vehicle was through the side windows making a case for using laminated safety glass on side windows as well as windshields. Not only is it an effective barrier to ejection, laminated glass causes fewer facial injuries in a crash and is a nice way to make your ride quieter. But it is more expensive, so auto manufacturers have used tempered glass in side windows more frequently. So what is the downside? Laminated glass can also be nearly impossible to break and escape from. This is a huge problem if your car is submerged in water or on fire. A window punch will only ding the surface and unless you can remove the rubber strip around the window and push the whole sheet of glass
out, you could be trapped.
So what do you do? First, know your vehicle. Mine has laminated glass in the windshield and the front side windows. The rear and back windows are tempered glass. In my husband’s car, all the windows are tempered. So it would make sense for him to carry a punch or hammer, but might or might not be super helpful for me. But if I was in a sinking car, I might be able to get to the back and punch out the back window, so I will keep my window hammer. It is cheap insurance in my opinion. I wouldn’t recommend keeping a sledge hammer or ax in the car, or a fancy glass saw like firefighters use which work better on laminated glass, because having one of those flying around in a crash could cause much, much bigger problems.
You can check your windows by looking in the lower corner to find the marking that will tell you the type, manufacturer, brand name, AS number (American Standard), model number, and DOT code. Make sure you check all of your vehicles. In fact, if you checked every car window you were riding in for the type of glass, you’d be ahead of the game should you encounter an emergency.
I read up on window hammers and window punches to see what might work best in an emergency for tempered glass. How do you decide? Both usually come with a seatbelt cutter in the handle. The advantage of a hammer is there are no springs, you just get your Hulk Hands swinging and smash the window with the small sharp end of the hammer.
Whenever attempting to break tempered glass, protect yourself or the patient as much as possible and always strike first in the bottom corner of the window.
However, if you are like my little 89-year-old momma and don’t have a lot of power behind that swing, or you don’t have a lot of space to swing, a punch might work better for you. Firm pressure will activate the spring-loaded punch that will shatter the glass. Again, they really aren’t that expensive, and it could come in handy, so my feeling is, ‘Why not?’
If you find yourself in that real emergency — trapped in a car that is submerged in water or on fire — here’s what AAA says to do:
1. Stay calm and get out of the vehicle while you have the time to do so safely — don’t lose precious escape moments to panic.
2. Unbuckle your seat belts and make sure everyone is ready to leave the vehicle when it’s time.
3. Roll down your window if you can and exit the vehicle. Remember that if your window is open, water will rush in at a faster rate, so plan accordingly. If that’s not an option, break the tempered glass window with an escape tool and exit that way. If you cannot open or break your windows, move everyone toward an area of the vehicle that has a pocket of air and remain there until the air is gone. Then, the pressure in the vehicle should equalize, allowing you to open a door and escape.
4. Finally, exit the vehicle quickly and move everyone to safety. Then, call 911.