This University of Extrication column is a joint effort of Firehouse Magazine and Firehouse.com to present critical information regarding vehicle lockout calls. References are made throughout this column to additional supporting documents that are available online only through the Firehouse.com/ extrication website.
Vehicle Lockout Standard Operating Guidelines
Fire department standard guidelines for operating at incidents with a child or animal locked inside a vehicle should already be in place. If your agency does not have a guideline for these situations, a sample SOG is available online here.
Essentially, what the SOG suggests is that fire departments should not be using door-unlocking devices to assist a citizen unlock a vehicle. Emergency situations should be dealt with by glass removal. For non-emergency door unlocking requests, the fire department should utilize the services of a professional locksmith agency. The sample SOG details how a fire department can literally get out of the car unlocking business and still be seen as a benefit to the person requesting assistance.
Lethal Heat Buildup Inside A Closed Vehicle
From a medical perspective, it must be understood that when a child or animal is locked in a vehicle, even when outside temperatures are fairly tolerable (a temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, for example), the interior temperature of a closed vehicle can rapidly become lethal (over 135F) in a very few minutes. Further information on the lethal buildup of heat inside a closed vehicle is available online at the www.firehouse.com/extrication website. A child locked in a car that is not running and is in the direct sun has just a few minutes of survivable time. This is a true emergency.
The National SAFE KIDS Campaign in cooperation with General Motors has produced an excellent public education color brochure on the dangers of leaving children unattended inside a vehicle. An online link to the free brochure, available in both English and Spanish versions, is available online through the Firehouse.com website, University of Extrication section.
The Price Of Replacement Glass
If confronted with a true emergency where a child or animal is locked inside a vehicle, fire department actions should involve forcibly breaking and removing a pane of glass to quickly access the interior. The glass that is broken is typically that which is farthest from the child or animal inside the vehicle and also allows a firefighter to reach an inside door unlock button and open a door.
As a point of curiosity, the question was asked regarding which window glass costs the least to replace in a typical vehicle. At an actual incident, glass replacement costs are not a factor, but if a rescuer has a choice, wouldn’t it be nice to not only break a window that allows the child to be rescued, but break a window that is not too expensive to replace?
A research project to find the answer to which glass should be broken if there is a choice involved contact with numerous auto body shops, car dealerships and glass replacement agencies nationwide. The recommendations, comments and opinions from these body shop and window glass experts revealed some interesting considerations for glass breakage. While there is no “always correct” answer, there was enough information to allow the officer in charge at a lockout call to decide on a preferred window glass to break when there is a choice.
Small Is Not Always The Cheapest
In most everything we do, the larger something is the more expensive it is. We can “super-size” our fast-food order for just 39 cents more or buy a jumbo package at the grocery store for just a few bucks more. We’re used to paying more for something that is bigger or larger.