My daily commute covers some of the most scenic areas of Virginia's Blue Ridge. Whether it's spectacular autumn color, vivid blooms in the spring, rolling hills covered in clouds during a summer thunderstorm or winter's blanket, the drive is beautiful. A little more than a year ago, things got ugly before dawn on a tiny side road I take to get on I-66.
An SUV had careened off the road, wrapping itself around a tree. Two vehicles were already stopped with their emergency flashers going and one of the drivers was on the phone with 911. The occupants of the other vehicle were walking away as I stopped.
"Is everyone OK?" I inquired.
"Nope, there's a woman trapped in there and she's pretty bad."
She was pinned in the driver's side, but her upper torso had a broken lean into the other seat. I introduced myself through the passenger's side window, which luckily disappeared in the collision. She asked me to call her husband. I refused, explaining I'd do so after the ambulance arrived. Shock was setting in and there was outright panic in her voice before I surrendered to her request.
She was bleeding somewhere and if it was external at least I could hold direct pressure until reinforcements arrived. Unfortunately I could not get the driver's-side door open. Opening the passenger door could move her, so that was out of the question. Both back doors were jammed and the other two guys I thought I could count on for added manpower had disappeared.
I spent more than 45 minutes holding her bloody hand, talking to her about family, jobs, home towns and anything to keep her awake. The 911 operator, who was still on the line with the other guy, denied my request to break out the back window of the SUV numerous times. I was inches away from being able to slow life-threatening bleeding, yet unable to do a thing except hold a hand and yell when she dozed.
Rescue tools designed to breech windows are an eloquent answer, but at the time I never saw a need for one in Virginia's rock-rich countryside. The version that lives in my glove box now is made by Colonial Knife Company.
The company's Auto Rescue Hook 505 doesn't take up much space—4 1/4 inches when the chord/seatbelt cutter is not deployed. It comes in a variety of colors, but the gaudy yellow version is most easily located.
When the cutter, which the company terms "auto rescue hook," is deployed, overall length becomes 7 1/2 inches. It has a smooth exterior to minimize the chance of lacerating someone if you're cutting away a belt or chord. Only the inside of the hook is sharp.
The other end of the tool is what I consider the business end. The window-breaking tool is relatively small as some models go, but it gets the job done without being obnoxious enough to drill a hole somewhere in your vehicle as it vibrates on rough highways or dirt roads.
Sorry, but as a former first-aid instructor for the American Red Cross with more than 12 years as a volunteer with search and rescue, I know cutting seat belts is nearly never needed before emergency personnel arrive. Even then, there's a procedure to minimize the chances of a person suffering further injury.
Although I have reservations about the seatbelt cutter for amateur "rescuers," it's important to remember if you're the person in the accident, and you have no other choice but to evacuate a burning or sinking vehicle, it can and will be a lifesaver. The cutter also has a locking mechanism to both hold it closed or open.
The grip is Isoplast, made by Dow, and has an unnatural grit to its feel. The surface really shines when it's wet. Getting a solid purchase in water is easy—a pretty strong attribute.
But if I didn't think to pick up a rock, "just in case," as I walked up to the vehicle, how will I remember to carry the Auto Rescue Hook 505? It has a pocket clip, thankfully, so I plan stick it on my pants the next time I stop.
So did the woman make it? Oddly her husband called me on the one-year anniversary of accident to tell me "thank you." He'd hung on to my cell phone number since the incident. She's still in physical therapy, even after all this time, and is on the road to recovery.
Both of us got lucky in this case, but next time I have no intention of relying on luck. I'll bring the Auto Rescue Hook with me.