Special Report: Jaws of Life

Special Report: Jaws of Life

TYLER (KYTX) -  We hear about tragic accidents every week, people pinned in cars, cars flipped over in ditches.

Usually, what we hear about is the outcome, but so much goes into making sure the outcome is positive, including one vital piece of equipment.

The jaws of life is a system, powered by a hydraulic pump. It's was first used in 1963 as a tool to free race car drivers from their vehicles after accidents. Today, emergency crews use it to save people all over the world.

Local firefighters gave CBS 19's Courtney Friedman the chance to see how the machine works, from the eyes of a victim. 

Daniel Bailey, an engineer and paramedic with the Tyler Fire Department, has had to use the jaws of life countless times in his career. He says the machine is crucial.

"When victims are involved in a car accident and the car is mangled, or the doors will not open with the door handle, there's no other way to get in," Bailey says.

The hydraulic, engine powered jaws of life machine is made up of cutters, spreaders, and a ram. 

"The spreader is capable of 10,500 PSI of spreading force, the cutters range now from 68,000 pounds up to 200,000 pounds which is there for the new reinforced metal," Bailey says.

New cars mean constant adaptation.

"Each model is a little different," Bailey says. "Air bags are in different places, so we constantly have to maintain that training."

New Jaws of Life machines are lighter than they used to be, but far stronger.

After Courtney tried out the jaws, she headed into the car to see the action from a victim's perspective.

"Upon arrival we're checking for scene safety, look for hazards, fuel, stuff like that," Bailey says.

Moments after Courtney's imaginary accident, firefighters were stabilizing the car with blocks. 

"The other thing we'll do right off the bat is kill the 12 volt system. Hopefully that disables the airbags," Bailey says.

Then, cue noise. The loud rumble of the machine begins as Bailey and his crew save Courtney from the car.

"Our process here is we're going to crimp a fender, make us some access points, make a couple of cuts, and remove the door so that you can get out," Bailey says.

When the Jaws of Life is being used, the job for one of the firefighters is always to be here inside the car, or near the car with the victim. During our demonstration, Bailey was with Courtney the entire time, telling her what was happening, reassuring her. An

East Texas woman who was recently in a very bad accident says that reassurance is what saved her life.

"I was just getting off work that morning going home, and came across the wreck, just right in front of me," says Tyler Firefighter Russell Jowell. "I checked the first car I came to, they were okay. Then I ran up to the second car and that's where Jennifer was. She was pinned in, semi conscious."

As crews arrived, Jowell talked Jennifer through the loud pops and cracks caused by the jaws.

"So she wasn't surprised when basically the sounds of the wreck started happening again," he says.

Jennifer survived, and through her recovery, wrote the fire department a letter about her experience.

She wrote: "I glanced at my hero just once. I can' tell you that he looked any different than a host of angels. God had protected me in the midst of the accident and provided the assurance of one of His special angels here on Earth."

Jowell like so many other professional life savers, says it's a part of the job, but it's a job made a whole lot easier, by the Jaws.

"They're great," Jowell says. "It's a great piece of equipment. We don't use them every day, but when we need them, they're there and they work."

 Jowell won the Tyler Fire Department's Chief's Merit Award for that rescue back in January.
Jennifer didn't want to go on camera, but allowed us to use her story, to explain how thankful she is for the Jaws of Life, and the brave people who use it to save lives like hers.  




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