Auto glass management: It's more than smashing windows

It is critical to invest the time to plan and execute how you approach removing glass at vehicle collisions

Updated Jan. 20, 2017

At every heavy rescue and extrication program, we are taught to remove glass as needed and in as controlled a manner as practical and possible. However, how many times do we go to the session and WHAM and SMASH go the side and rear glass because it’s impressive to watch or fun to do?

But is that what we should be doing? When displacing the vehicle glazing materials, usually referred to as glass management, we want to remove the glass in an orderly, managed process.

Make sure your eye protection is in place and you are wearing a dust mask.
Make sure your eye protection is in place and you are wearing a dust mask. (Photo/David Dalrymple)

Before one window is shattered, it is important to know the types of auto glass firefighters will encounter and the additional forces that can be present at a motor vehicle accident.

Types of glass

The two types of glass to which we have become accustomed to are still the most widely used.

1. Laminated glass: This type of glass is a sandwich, a series of layers of glass and plastic laminated together.
2. Tempered, or safety, glass: This type of glass will break into small granular fragments when shattered.

However, there are a few new variations in use. Enhanced protective glass is basically a form of laminated glass found in the side and rear windows. Dual-paned glass and polycarbonate glazing are also used.

Some of these materials require a change in our methodology and tools for removing such windows.

You also have to factor in the issues of rear auto glass hatches in SUVs and minivans. These glass hatches have a nasty habit of flying apart when broken, because of the tension placed on them by the multiple hatch struts and the energy absorbed by the vehicle during the crash.

Laminated glass is:

  • Found in windshields, but is increasingly found in the side and rear windows as well.
  • Must be cut from the vehicle to be removed, which can be facilitated by cutting the peripheral edge with an ax, a glass saw, or even a reciprocating saw.
  • This operation produces glass dust, which is a respiratory hazard. For this reason, we must add dust masks to the personal protective equipment for glass management.

Tempered glass is:

  • Usually found in side and rear windows.
  • To break this glass, use an impact tool that imparts a large amount of force into a small concentrated area. Then clean out the window opening by pulling the glass onto the ground with a tool, not with gloved hands.

Safety first

Vehicles can load the glass with energy from the crash; when it’s broken it can almost explode when that energy is released. We must protect our patient with a protective cover and use hard protection to funnel glass pieces away from the patient.

Make sure your eye protection is in place and you are wearing a dust mask. Also, watch out for glass in hatches of vehicles. It can have up to four gas struts pushing on the glass and creating even more tension. This, too, might explode when broken; be aware that the struts may also push toward rescuers.

Ideally, the laminated glass that was cut and removed should be folded and slid under the vehicle out of the rescuers' way. If at all possible, tempered glass should be removed to the outside of the vehicle, away from the patient and the interior rescuer.

However, some vehicles — especially SUVs and minivans — might have a lot of windows or a rather large window, which produce many glass particles.

Glass particles can be slippery, almost like marbles. It is a good practice to sweep these under the vehicle so that rescuers are not walking on it and stabilization devices are on not on it.

Managing auto glass

There are two new materials available to help rescuers manage glass.

  • Packexe Smash is available in North America from ESI equipment. It is a clear film dispensed from a special applicator. The film adds enough strength for tempered glass to be cut.
  • An extrication wrap made by Protecto is an adhesive rubber compound on one side with a smooth brightly colored film on the other side. The material comes in a roll that firefighters can pre cut or cut-to size on scene.

    On the flip side, laminated glass dust can be greatly reduced by applying the film first and then cutting through the area where the film is applied. If the glass is wet, it can be wiped dry with a microfiber cloth before the film is applied.

    The up side to this material is it can be used as sharp-edge protection as well. Both of these materials really can make a difference in glass-management tasks. And both materials can handle glass management and sharp-edge protection.

Whether or not you invest in glass-management products, it is critical to invest the time to plan and execute how you approach removing glass at vehicle collisions. A smart approach protects both rescuers and patients.

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