Extrication Tips: Vehicle lockout guide
In October's Extrication Tips column, Randy Schmitz discussed vehicle entry. Schmitz has also developed a model guideline for vehicle lockouts that is ready for your department to adopt.
By Randy Schmitz
Purpose and overview
A key value for fire departments and its members is our willingness to assist our citizens and our customers in any way possible. This assistance has traditionally included assisting entry into locked vehicles where such actions can be taken safely, efficiently, and without risk of damage to the vehicle or occupants. Unfortunately, the continued development of anti-theft devices, side airbags, and other technological developments have created a situation where risk to the safety of fire department personnel, the vehicle occupant, and even the vehicle itself exceeds our ability to provide an effective, safe service. These risks include, but are not limited to:
• Possibly assuming liability for immediate or future damage to the vehicle or occupant;
• Damaging insulation or wiring that may short and cause an immediate or future fire;
• Disabling or damaging wiring for side airbags;
• Disabling or damaging wiring for power door locks and windows;
• Other damage to the vehicle or its finish.
The purpose of this procedure is to establish the criteria in which emergency entry into a vehicle will be performed
II – Dispatch policy for locked vehicles
Fire department units will be dispatched to reported locked vehicles in the following situations, which may be “emergencies:”
• Person(s) locked in vehicle that is incapable of unlocking the vehicle and is in immediate danger due to heat or other medical condition;
• Pet(s) locked in closed vehicle without air conditioning;
• Vehicle locked and running INSIDE of a closed structure producing a hazardous atmosphere; (Note: A vehicle in a garage with the garage door up would not be a hazardous situation unless there is evidence of overheating.)
• Other situations where the locked condition of the vehicle is an obvious threat to the safety of persons or property.
III – Call handling procedures
Upon receipt of a reported lockout, the EOC operator shall determine if the situation meets the criteria for an “emergency” as listed in Section II. An “inconvenience” is not an emergency and being “late to work”, “late to a ball game”, etc. is not to be considered emergencies by fire or EOC personnel.
A. If an emergency exists, the call will be dispatched following standard communications procedures.
B. If it cannot be determined whether or not an emergency exists, fire department personnel will be dispatched and will respond to make an “on-scene” determination of the appropriateness of forcible entry.
IV – Fire department response and entry
The fire department will respond to all vehicle emergencies as defined in section II, above. Upon arrival at the scene, the fire department officer shall observe the situation and make the determination of whether or not an emergency exists.
If a situation exists which poses a threat to life or property, fire department personnel will make entry by taking the following actions:
1. Advise the person responsible for the vehicle that an “emergency entry” is being made;
2. Advise the person responsible for the vehicle that the safest and most economical way of gaining entry will be to break a windowpane;
3. That the fire department cannot be responsible for any damage to the vehicle under the emergency conditions present;
4. Select an appropriate window away from the occupant;
5. Remove the window by fracturing the glass with a center punch;
6. Unlock the door and stabilize the emergency;
7. After the emergency is stabilized, assist the person in control of the vehicle by removing (to the extent possible) all loose glass from the vehicle;
8. Advise the owner or occupant that glass fragments may sometimes be wedged between seats, window frames, etc. It is suggested that great caution be used until a professional glass company replaces the window and the interior checked for any residual glass.
NOTE: The nature of the emergency, the reason for using forcible entry, and the method of entry and any subsequent damage must be clearly explained in the incident report narrative.
The individual should also produce their driver’s license, which verifies that they live at the address shown on the vehicle’s registration once entry is gained.