Rescue knives are specialized tools for rescuing people, especially those trapped in crashed cars. They are used by EMS/EMT, search and rescue, firemen, police, and other first responders. They can also be used by car drivers and passengers as an automotive escape tool, to rescue themselves.
Depending on the type, brand, quality and features, they can cost as little as $10. This makes them very affordable insurance for anyone who spends a lot of time in a car.
They might also have additional features that are useful in emergency situations:
A dedicated seat belt cutter is a recessed blade that protects fingers from being cut, yet can easily slice through tough seat belt fabric. A plastic slot stops fingers from reaching the blade, but allows seat belts through.
An alternative to a dedicated seat belt cutter, is a safety knife with a sheep’s foot or other rounded tip. This allows the blade to be quickly inserted between the seat belt and the trapped person’s chest, with little danger of accidentally stabbing him. The blade can also be used to cut off clothing, to make it easier to administer first aid.
The main disadvantage is that the blade needs to be opened before it can be used. This makes it suitable for first responders, but less suitable for self-rescue.
Most blades are serrated as this makes them better for cutting fabric. Some blades are curved to easily hook the seat belt for slicing.
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Window Punches and Glass Breakers
A window punch is used to break car windows, to exit a crashed car. This is necessary when the car door is jammed or the powered windows don’t work. They can also be used to crack the windshield and rear window. However windshields are laminated. A saw is needed to cut it after it is cracked, but a knife might work.
There are two types of window punches. The simplest is a hardened spike that works like an ice pick. You hit the glass with it, swinging like an axe or using your palm as a hammer to drive it like a nail.
- Simple and reliable.
- Small, can fit on to the end of any knife.
- Takes some strength to use.
- Possible to drive your hand through the broken glass, causing serious cuts.
- Needs two hands to use, if hammering with the palm while holding the punch in the other hand. If swinging with one hand, the chances of accidentally pushing through the broken glass and cutting yourself, are higher.
Spring-loaded or automatic punches are safer and easier to use. You press the tip against the glass, and press. After a threshold force is passed (typically 12 pounds), the mechanism suddenly releases, hammering the tip into the glass and breaking it.
- Easy to use, just press.
- Can be used with one hand.
- Safe. Less chance of pushing your hand through broken glass.
- Mechanism can fail to release, making it useless. They should be regularly tested on a piece of plastic or wood.
- Mechanism takes up space, making it difficult to integrate with a knife.
Whatever the type used, care should be taken because broken glass is involved. Look away and close your eyes before breaking the window. Gloves should be worn if possible.
Rescue knives are standard folding knives, with a seat belt cutter (either a dedicated slotted seat belt cutter, or a safety knife) and window punch. Blades are usually three to four inches long. They are designed for first responders, but are also suitable for civilians as an EDC (Every Day Carry) general purpose utility knife. EDC is important because a rescue knife is useless if left at home.
Some are called “tactical” rescue knives. Tactical knives have a sharp point, often a Tanto tip, for heavy duty piercing (if it doesn’t, it isn’t a tactical knife and the term is just misused for marketing purposes). This makes the blade dangerous if used for cutting seat belts. A tactical rescue knife should therefore have a dedicated slotted seat belt cutter.
- Non-slip handles.
- Lanyard hole. A lanyard makes it easy to recover a dropped knife. In an emergency, seconds count.
- One-handed opening blade.
- Locking blade.
Examples of rescue knives
- Gerber Hinderer (includes oxygen tank valve wrench)
- Smith & Wesson First Response
- Boker Tactical Rescue Knife
- Ridge Runner Tactical Rescue
- Jeep Rescue Knife
- M-Tech Rescue
- Eickhorn-Solingen Rescue Tool
- Camillus Rescue Heat
- Kershaw Rescue Blur (safety knife, no dedicated seat belt cutter)
- Spyderco Assist (safety knife, no dedicated seat belt cutter)
- Spyderco Rescue (safety knife, no dedicated seat belt cutter)
Rescue multitools are standard multitools (Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman) with a seat belt cutter, and a window punch. They will have a knife, screwdriver and other tools found in a multitool. Like rescue knives, they are general purpose tools, suitable for EDC.
They are rare, the main example being the Victorinox Swiss Army Rescue Tool. It has a curved safety knife, a simple spike window punch, luminous glow-in-the-dark handles, a screwdriver and other tools. It also has a glass saw, for cutting through laminated windshields, making it one of the most capable pocket rescue tools.
There’s a demonstration video of the Victorinox Swiss Army Rescue Tool, on YouTube. Note the protective clothing used, because of the danger from broken glass.
Automotive Escape Tools
These are knife-less tools, making them safe for anyone to use. They might even get past airport security. They have a slotted seat belt cutter, and a spring-loaded window punch.
- Houdini Automotive Escape Tool
- Swiss+Tech BGCSOR-PS BodyGard (siren, flashing light)
- CRKT Columbia River Knife And Tool Exitool (LED flashlight)
They can be kept on a keyring for EDC. They can be also left in the glove compartment or tied somewhere inside the car. Both locations have drawbacks:
- The glove compartment is convenient, but might be out of reach if the seat belt is jammed.
- If tied somewhere, it might be thrown out of reach in a collision.
Full-sized Rescue Tools
Full-sized tools are designed for first responders. For example the Channellock 89 Rescue Tool has shears, a pry bar, window punch, firehose wrench, and gas valve tool (for shutting off the household supply in case of fire).
How to Choose the Right Rescue Tool
The best rescue tool is the one that you have with you when an emergency occurs. Choosing one means considering your personal preferences and habits. In a pinch, a standard folding knife or multitool will work.
The tool should be carried in such a way that it can be used by either hand, as one arm might be injured. It’s not a bad idea to have a few tools, in different places.