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April 2012 How To Survive!

Posted in Features on April 1, 2012
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How many of you can easily freak yourself out by just thinking about the possibility of drowning? You imagine the water rising, you’re treading in a tiny air pocket, you wonder how long you can hold your breath when the water goes above your head … and then you quickly decide it’s better to think about things like cupcakes and Moab. But just in case you ever have to face your fear because your Jeep plunges into a body of water, or there’s a flash flood while you’re wheeling, we wanted to get survival tips. We got the lowdown from Captain Craig White, Urban Search and Rescue 88, Program Coordinator, Los Angeles Fire Department Swift Water Rescue Team, and Captain Brian R. Harriss of the James City County Fire Department Water Rescue Team in Virginia.

• Do rescuers see more incidents of vehicles plunging into a body of water, or vehicles as flotation device because someone thought they could cross a river or rising water? Captain White tells us that for him it’s a mix of both, while Captain Harriss says his is both accidents and people who have intentionally driven into the water.

• You swerved to avoid an accident or lost control of your Jeep and are about to hit the water. Should you quickly jump out in midair like a cool stunt driver? “I would say hold on and brace for impact. Wait until the vehicle is in the water, then attempt to exit immediately,” advised Captain White. “The risk of being struck by your vehicle would be much greater than those involved in riding it out,’” added Captain Harriss. Your natural instinct will be to grip the steering wheel for impact. Don’t fight it. And once you hit the water, stay calm and let survival mode take over.

• For that escape, “Historically, windows are a much better option, as they are not subject to the pressure differentials encountered with doors,” said Captain Harriss. He also advised that once you’re out, get as far away from the Jeep as possible to avoid getting pulled under as it sinks. You saw Titanic. You know what he means.

• But here’s the thing with getting out fast: You try to open the door and you can’t because of the weight of the water against it. So, you turn to the window instead, preferably the one closest to you. (If the Jeep rotates in the water, open the one on the high side.) With most vehicles, the engine will die because of the water intake, and then it’ll be ECU failure, followed by death of the fuse box and the other systems. The battery will likely remain charged for a while, so even in water, you might still be able to lower electric windows before there’s a short.

• And…there’s a short. So, doors won’t open, windows won’t go down…and right about now, you probably wish you’d gone with option A of cool stunt driver. But you do have another option: break a window.

• There are various tools on the market that you can keep in your Jeep for an emergency such as this (such as a multitool with a hardened tip and built-in seatbelt cutter). You could try kicking out the glass, but Captain White warned that “Movies make it look easy.” If you have a centerpunch on you, use it at any corner of the window, although you may have the best luck at the lower rear corner of the window. But note: “Windshields and rear windows will not break out with a punch. The punch will only work on door windows,” said Captain White. You also can slice open your soft top or exit via sunroof.

• Speaking of your seatbelt, if possible, “Leave it on until you are ready to exit. If water is rushing in, it may move you around,” explained Captain White.

• What about waiting until the Jeep is fully submerged and allowing for the pressure to equalize, then simply casually opening the door and exiting? Well, how deep is that water you went into? That’s a long time to hold your breath if the depth is triple figures, and even then, you may have to wait even longer until the Jeep is fully settled.

• Conversely, let’s talk unsettling: You have escaped the Jeep, but it’s nighttime or the water is dark and murky. Which end is up? Air bubbles always go up, said both experts, so follow them. And since nothing in your vehicle will act as a makeshift floaty when you have only seconds to spare, we advise everyone take a swimming lesson before this scenario happens.

• What about if your Jeep is in a sand wash or canyon and suddenly a flash flood comes through and tries to sweep it away? Or you go to cross a creek and discover it’s way deeper than it looked? First of all, we always tell you to check the weather before you head out to the trail. Now we’re telling you to check it as far as 50 miles away, too. So, if the water begins to rise around your Jeep, again, get out fast. If it’s still safe, consider securing the Jeep with a winch or rope so that when the water recedes you can recover it.

• But how to approach that Jeep in the water is another issue. Stay away from the upstream position, warned Captain White, because if you lose your footing or something knocks you down, you may end up pinned to the Jeep or sucked underneath. Approaching from the sides is your best bet.

• And if you’re swept away? “You want to get out of the water as soon as possible, so get in the defensive swim position: on your back, getting your butt as high out of the water as possible and getting your feet up and in front of you to assist in pushing off any obstacles encountered,” said Captain White. “We teach if you want to go to the right side of the river, you would turn your body 45 degrees to the current, with your head pointing to the right side of the river and use the current to push you to that side. It’s called Ferry angle.”

• Finally, if you witness a vehicle go into the water? Call 911, and as tempted as you will be to rush into the water to help, keep in mind what Captain White told us: “Nationwide, we have roughly 10,000 water–related deaths each year, and two-thirds of those deaths are would-be rescuers.” Added Captain Harriss, “The greatest hazards lie with the rescuer becoming entangled in the sinking vehicle, becoming exhausted, or being overcome by a panicked victim. If it is possible to ‘coach’ the victim out from a distance, that would be the safest method.”

Sources

James City County Fire Department Water Rescue Team
http://www.jccegov.com/fire/dive-team.html
Urban Search and Rescue 88, Los Angeles Fire Department Swift Water Rescue Team
http://www.fire.lacounty.gov/SpecialOps/TechOpsSwiftwaterRescue.asp

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