WPA #4 — Jaws of Life

Another fas­ci­nat­ing demon­stra­tion at the Writ­ers Police Acad­emy was watch­ing a team of fire­fight­ers “res­cue” an imag­i­nary patient trapped in the back of a vehi­cle. For safety rea­sons, they wouldn’t let any of us vol­un­teer!
Crew In a real-life sit­u­a­tion, the fire­fight­ers would cover the patient with a blan­ket to pro­tect him/her from glass frag­ments. They would also have one fire­fighter inside with him/her, try­ing to keep things calm.

There are a LOT of pre­cau­tions taken, and for the fire­fight­ers, the patient is pri­or­ity #1. One of the first things they deal with is set­ting off the airbags if they haven’t already detonated.

airbag1airbag2There are heavy-duty explo­sives in there—think rocket fuel, and the last thing the fire­fight­ers want is igni­tion. There are 2 stage airbags; the first goes ‘poof’ and the sec­ond goes ‘bang.’ It’s not always easy to tell which is which, and in our demo, we got the ‘bang’ first. Airbags are high on the list of things to steal—an airbag and actu­a­tor sell for about $800.

Then they’ll sta­bi­lize the car using step chocks, and dis­con­nect the bat­tery before work­ing on the patient. They don’t want any sur­prises. Hybrid cars are very quiet, and the fire­fight­ers must con­firm they’re actu­ally off.


They have tools for break­ing win­dows, and tak­ing out the glass.


They use cut­ters, spread­ers, and rams to dis­as­sem­ble the vehi­cle. Mod­ern met­als are stronger and more brit­tle. The cut­ters don’t really “cut”—they squeeze. If a patient is in the front seat and trapped behind the dash, a ram is used to move the dash up and off the patient. Usu­ally 3 inches is enough.

spreaderscutterAnd here’s some more of the process

DoorsDoors_windshieldDismantle1Dismantle 2roofdone(you can see the ram they used to lift the dash in the above shot)

This was a spe­cial one-time-only demo, for obvi­ous reasons!

Tomor­row, my guest is Karla Bran­den­burg who’s talk­ing about research so you can write what you know. She’s been “on loca­tion” for her lat­est book.

11 thoughts on “WPA #4 — Jaws of Life

  1. Inter­est­ing about set­ting off air bags–didn’t know–and hybrid cars. That’s really changed since I did fire academy.

  2. Thank you for this infor­ma­tion and the good pho­tos! This looks like a won­der­fully use­ful event. The Writer’s Police Acad­emy. Wow.

  3. I did a Cit­i­zens Police Acad­emy once when we lived in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia and it was an eye-opening expe­ri­ence. The best part was get­ting to do tar­get prac­tice. BUT, we had noth­ing came close to this kind of “demo.” This is amaz­ing and what a truly one-of-a-kind expe­ri­ence. You are so lucky to have gone through this! And, as the oth­ers have said, thanks for shar­ing these amaz­ing photos.

  4. Thanks to all for your com­ments. Yes, the Writ­ers Police Acad­emy is fan­tas­tic. It’s a one-of-a-kind oppor­tu­nity, and thanks go to Lee Lofland for all his hard work in putting it together. If you can get there, do it. You’ll pick up a tremen­dous amount of details to add to your book (and you won’t get Lee mad at you for get­ting it wrong–real life isn’t TV!) and, most of all, gain respect for those who put their lives on the line daily.

  5. I appre­ci­ate you shar­ing all this infor­ma­tion — I learned a lot. Thanks.

  6. Pingback: Catching up on Day 19: Idyll in Alamo | First day: September 15

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