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Keep calm, have plan to survive mishap

February 10, 2012

When a vehicle starts to sink in water local authorities advise to roll down the windows immediately and exit the vehicle.

A recent tragic accident claimed the life of a Mercer County teen while she was driving in Putnam County. She accidently drove her car off the roadway and entered a nearby pond.

Seventeen-year-old Brianna Coon, of Rockford, called 911 for help, but the sinking vehicle soon trapped the youth and took her life.

Chiefs of two Wapakoneta departments  say developing a plan and rehearsing a possible emergency exit — even in a person’s mind — can help a person stay calm and contribute to saving a motorist’s life.

“With an average of 1,500 incidents each year and 600 deaths, according to one report, we want to

get the word out and provide tips on how to survive,” Wapakoneta Police Chief Russ Hunlock said as he, Fire Chief Kendall Krites and Safety-Service Director Bill Rains shared that the teen’s death prompted them to want to make known the tips to survive a vehicle submerging in water.

“We sat down earlier this week and said people need to consider the necessary safety tips and we need to encourage people having a conversations with the 15 1/2-year-old and up people who are in high school and who are least experienced drivers,” Rains said. “We are not aiming these safety tips just at them, we are starting with them because they are the newest members to driving, but these tips should be considered by all motorists.”

The three advised people may want to purchase a $15 LifeHammer, which includes a pointed head to break the window and a razor blade in the handle to cut the seat belt.

Krites, who pointed out another study reports a car goes into the water every four hours in the United States, advised people to roll down their windows immediately upon hitting the water. As the car becomes submerged, occupants will have to wait for the water to equalize the pressure before they can open the door more easily which is delaying escape.

The fire chief said if they are in rushing water to open the window on the downstream side, or opposite the way the rushing water is flowing. If the upstream window is open, the vehicle will fill more quickly with water and it will be more difficult to use as an escape route.

Whether the car has roll down or electric windows, Hunlock shared the electric system will typically stay operational for as long as 3 minutes or longer — but plan an escape route immediately.

If the LifeHammer is purchased, place it or another tool in range so it can be used to break the window if it will not roll down. People should try and break the driver’s side or passenger’s side window. A person should not try to break the front windshield because it is shatter proof.

“Do not think it has to be a large body of water to submerge a vehicle, it takes as little as 6 inches of water to float a vehicle in a hydroplaning situation,” Hunlock said. “It doesn’t take much water to get a vehicle to start floating and then the water takes the car away into a larger amount of water.

“The warnings to stay away from flooded roadways should be headed — bottom line and at all times,” he said.

Krites said get the seat belt off by unfastening it or cutting it off.

The fire chief said a parent should get themselves free of the vehicle first and then attend to children. If the child is in a carseat, try to release the carseat as a unit and do not unhook the child from the seat.

He advised parents to check the carseat because many are buoyant and float which means it can be utilized as a flotation device. Keeping them in the seat typically keeps the child safe, and easier to get to shore.

They also said a motorist should unlock their doors and roll back a sunroof, if one exists, as another escape route.

The three stressed remaining calm because many cars require the car to be in park before all the doors will unlock automatically.

“If there are multiple people in the vehicle, you may want to join hands or form a chain, and then out you go,” Hunlock said. “I also advise people to be familiar with your surroundings — know what road you are on. When you get out and you call 911 it will help emergency crews respond.”

Hunlock and Krites stressed practicing an escape, obviously short of breaking a car window, similar to developing and practicing a fire escape plan.

“Practice these steps, roll down the window, crawl out the window,” Hunlock said.

“Run through a series of events in your mind,” Krites said. “Know your escape route. Implement an escape plan, keep the tool in one place so you know where it is.

“With firefighters we tell them they will react upon their training,” the fire chief said. “When you are in an emergency situation, you are not necessarily thinking rationally, your body will react to how you played out that situation. If you train on something consistently, it will help you remain calm and will hopefully save your life and the lives of others.”

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