State lawmakers move towards hot car rescue bill

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) –  Tennessee recently passed a law which authorizes people who aren’t police and firefighters to break into cars if necessary to save a person’s life.

In light of the tragic child deaths we’ve seen in our own state we asked state lawmakers if they would support such a law here.

Everyone we spoke with said they would either support the bill or at least support the discussion of such a law. And one state lawmaker immediately got the process started to turn that idea into reality here. He now says he’ll be pushing that bill during the next legislative session.

Some people might not think about the consequences when there is a child’s life at stake inside a sweltering locked car.

The reality is that there could be consequences for the rescuer even if their heart is in the right place.

“You know it’s going to always be a legal issue, you have to realize that you know, you could be held liable for the damage which is secondary to saving a human life of course, but you have to take that into consideration. We just advise people to call 911 before they act so at least they would have some legal ground to stand on,” said Battalion Chief C W Mardis, Birmingham Fire and Rescue.

State Representative John Rogers says Alabama should have a law like the one in Tennessee which lets people break car windows if need be to save a human life.

“So therefore the bill is being drawn up as we speak. The bill is being drawn up it will be filed this coming session. I’m going to pre-file the bill,” said State Representative John Rogers D-Birmingham. “It makes it easier for them to do what’s right. A lot of people walk away because they say I don’t want to get charged with vandalizing or doing something, destroying something and get sued or get charged. This law would make it easier for a person to do what’s the right thing, make it easy so they will say well I’m going to go ahead and do this because the law is on my side.”

State Senator Jabo Waggoner says there need to be some safeguards, but the need is clearly there.

“It’s an issue we need to look at and it’s an issue that we will look at. In theory, it’s a good idea. You know because you hear more and more about children left in closed up cars,” said State Senator Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills.

While lawmakers sort out whether people should be allowed to do that in an emergency- we are also investigating the safest way to actually get into a locked car quickly.

Emergency responders often carry window punch tools which are like spring loaded ice picks, but most people don’t carry them around so we looked for something that is more likely to be available in an emergency and offers a little more control than a brick. Our choice was a tire iron.

Battalion Chief C W Mardis with the Birmingham Fire Department says when you see a person stuck in a hot car your first move should be to call 9-1-1.

“But also try to open the doors they may be unlocked. We don’t condone or condemn the actions. It’s a personal decision that a person has to make in a time of an emergency, but we do just make sure that you call 911 so we can also be responding to the situation,” said Batallion Chief Mardis.

Hoover Fire Department Executive Officer, Lt. Rusty Lowe, says in an emergency situation you should always try to go through the side windows which are tempered glass as opposed to the windshield which is layered glass.

A windshield is designed to spider web on impact to prevent flying glass from entering a vehicle.

The side windows are designed to withstand very solid forces across a broad area, but they can shatter with something hard that concentrates force on a small part of the glass. If you try to punch it out there is a good chance you will wind up with a broken hand.

So you need to focus your impact with something very hard.

Lt. Lowe says in an emergency situation it’s best try to break a window as far away from the person inside the car as possible. So if they’re in the back go for a  front side window.

He says it helps to aim for a lower corner which is a stress point and at the last second, you want to look away.

He says the temperature and other factors can affect the way the glass responds.

It might shatter into thousands of pieces or part of it may remain intact. Lowe says just need to be able to reach in and unlock the doors.

Tennessee’s law that provides civil immunity for breaking into a car in an emergency only after first calling fire or police personnel or 911.  We’ll let you know what happens with the bill in Alabama.

Copyright 2014 WIAT 42 News

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