The vehicle overturned next to Highway 101 South and Samoa Blvd. | Photo: Fire Captain John Evenson, via the AFD Facebook

Following an accident involving a car overturning in the water last week, the Arcata Fire District wants to remind the public that having a window breaker in your vehicle might  save your life.

Alyssa Alvarez, public information officer for the Arcata Fire District, told the Outpost that the fire district got a call on Sunday, Mar. 3 at around 2:30 p.m. for a medical rescue on the Highway 101 South off-ramp in Arcata at Samoa Boulevard. A car had gone off the road and overturned in the water-filled ditch on the side of the highway and the driver was trapped inside of the vehicle. 

But by the time the responders arrived, the driver had managed to escape from the vehicle by using a window breaker that they had attached to their keychain to break and escape from the window. And though first responders arrived at the scene very quickly, Alvarez said, the driver likely would not have survived if they didn’t have that window breaker handy. 

“That person knows how lucky they are,” Alvarez said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “They know if they didn’t have that window breaker, the outcome would have been very different.” 

If you don’t recall, the weather was very dicey on March 3, with on and off hail storms and heavy rain. The weather was likely the biggest factor in the accident, Alvarez said, making the road very slippery and causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle. Because of the weather, the ditch the car went into was completely flooded and when the car overturned, the driver was entirely submerged in water. 

Screenshot from Google Street view showing the location of the crash

Alvarez is not sure exactly how long it took the driver to extricate themself from the vehicle, but it must have been relatively quickly, since they had already escaped by the time the responders arrived. But even a very short amount of time can seem like a pretty long time, when you’re trapped underwater. 

“Think about how long you can hold your breath,” Alvarez said to illustrate how dire the situation was. “Now, how long could you hold it while you were panicking?” 

It’s because the driver had their window breaker in such an accessible position (on their keychain) that they were able to escape in time, Alvarez said. The message the Arcata Fire District really wants to drive home is that having a window breaker in an accessible place in your vehicle is really important! So go get one! 

Window breakers, sometimes called emergency escape hammers, are widely available online and can be as little as $5 a piece. Many window breakers also include a seatbelt cutter (Alvarez is not sure if the driver in this incident had one or not) another incredibly useful tool for if you are trapped in your vehicle and unable to unbuckle the seat belt. This is also the reason a window breaker is critical – although you may sometimes be able to kick out a window or use something else in the vehicle to break it, depending on how you are positioned, or what damage was caused to you or your vehicle, you might not be able to use any of these other methods. 

Alvarez said that she and the fire district wanted to share this message because of the hazardous driving conditions we often face, especially during times of inclement weather. It’s only March, so there will likely be more days of heavy rain ahead, and Alvarez wants to make sure everyone is prepared. Make sure to get a window breaker/seatbelt cutter and put it somewhere easily accessible and where it won’t move during an accident, such as your keychain or in the middle console. And be sure to drive with extra caution during rain, hail or snow. 

“Keep your headlights on, maintain safe speeds and keep and move over for emergency services on the side of the road,” she said.