Earthquakes, gas explosions, hurricanes and terrorist threats all create a real threat of getting trapped inside a building under collapsed roofs and walls. This emergency situation may call for digging out from rubble and breaking through to safety.
Collapsed walls release particulates, including asbestos in older buildings, that are dangerous to breathe. Metal is literally torn apart in the process, creating sharp edges at every turn, and open electrical circuits are exposed that the human body can accidentally connect. Add in the prospect of broken water pipes creating more conductivity and the recipe for disaster is complete. Even if a person is lucky enough to survive the blunt trauma of the impact of a wall collapsing on and around them, other dangers will soon present themselves in this environment.
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Waiting for help may not be an option, as environmental threats can force you to speed up your response time, requiring immediate action on your part. Aside from personal protection equipment (heavy-duty gloves, goggles, a face mask and a hard hat) some hand tools are easily kept within reach in your home or office to help you tackle common obstacles.
A standard crow bar or wonder bar (flat crow bar) like the 7-inch Wonder Bar Pry Bar II by Stanley Tools can be used for general prying and leveraging. Doors can be pried open and objects lifted or moved with shims. The longer the bar, the better the leverage, but with that advantage comes added size and weight. Should breaking glass be necessary, a crow bar provides extra reach to prevent accidental cuts from flying material. The hook can also be used to pull material out of the way that might otherwise not be safe to handle with a gloved hand.
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Brick walls are sturdy but will not last if impacted with a small sledge or heavy framing hammer. These hammers can knock metal and wood studs out of the way as well as open locked doors if encountered. Disturbing walls with this tool requires not only protective gloves and eyewear but the space to swing it. Use the weight of the tool and don’t muscle it. Be warned that these hammers, like axes and hatchets, require discipline and are almost impossible to redirect if swung in a path in line with the body and can cause bodily harm. They will also introduce more particulates into the air. The 28-ounce FatMax Xtreme AntiVibe Rip Claw Framing Hammer from Stanley Tools is a good model to have in your pack.
Considering the amount of wiring in modern buildings (telephone, electrical, fiber optic, etc.), having the means to cut cables is essential. Even the sharpest knife edge will dull with repeated use on soft wire such as copper. The Stanley Tools 18-inch Forged Handle Bolt Cutter, and if possible other tools, should be insulated from electrical shock, sharpened and have handles as long as possible in storage. Bolt cutters can help cut through the likely spiderweb of wires blocking your path to escape.
When encountering metal sheeting like heating ductwork and aluminum siding, a good hacksaw like the Stanley Tools 10-inch Mini Hack Saw or a multi-purpose blade can cut through objects more efficiently than heavy-duty snips. Also, saws leave behind clean cuts, limiting the risk of lacerations if re-entry or repeated trips are necessary. Extra blades should be carried if one breaks, and they are often light enough to warrant the redundancy.
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Should a hole need to be cut in a flat surface, a quality axe with a non-conductive handle can be used. Punching through a sheet of plywood or through a roof is made easier when a cutting edge can create the initial hole to saw through. Be careful when penetrating any wall as conditions on the other side may be more dangerous than those on the side you’re on. Look, listen and feel before breaching with a tool like the Shrike Tomahawk from RMJ Tactical.
Given the fact that a collapsed wall likely means damage to the electrical grid, a headlamp allowing hands-free use should be stored as well. If you are concerned about ruptured gas lines, look for a headlamp or flashlight rated for use in the mining industry, such as the Minimus Headlamp from SureFire.
If space does not allow a small bag of tools, certain tools have multiple uses, such as the Stanley FatMax and RMJ Tactical Shrike. These tools have been proven in the field with fire rescue personnel as well as military operators to gain access to areas blocked by obstructions. They can be used to break locks, demolish brick and provide leverage for prying open jammed doors.
At the very least, a quality multi-tool with pliers and wire-cutters should be packed as an everyday-carry item. With a multi-tool like those from Leatherman, you’ll have an assortment of tools useful for cutting small-gauge wires, moving hot objects, light prying and disassembling objects/loosening screws in the way.
Paired with an understanding of how to protect yourself from common dangers, you can improve your chances of survival with a few simple tools. Of course, the best defense is avoidance through careful observation.
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This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Winter 2016 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.