Auto extrication is one of the hallmarks of the fire service. It brings to mind the big, heavy power tools used to pop doors and cut off roofs. But it also involves a more basic action: freeing a person from a seatbelt.
As rescuers, we frequently can’t reach the button to release the seatbelt, or worse yet, the button is non-operational and the only way to extricate the person is to cut off the seatbelt. Because of this, rescuers often carry seatbelt cutters.
Recently, I tested one such seatbelt cutter, the new MAK-1 (multiple-access knife) manufactured by Columbia River Knife & Tool (CRKT). In 2007, CRKT premiered its Emergency Response line of knives and tools, and the MAK-1 is one of the products in that line.
Designed by professional firefighter James McGowan from Ontario, the MAK-1 is a fine piece of rescue equipment, although on first sight it looks like a large and intimidating knife. If you were to wear it exposed on your turnouts/bunker gear, you might give the wrong impression. In fact, it reminded me of a knife I carried while I was in the infantry that I attached to my web gear.
But don’t be misled by the appearance. The knife has many features: a full stainless-steel blade, traction grooves, a finger choil, an 8-mm wrench for GM side-mount batteries, a window twist breaker, a reflective orange paracord lanyard and a carbide breaker tip. The tool’s balance and weight are extremely nice. The handle is rough-finished with G10 scales that can be removed for cleaning. Although the MAK-1 is sold separately, the MAK-1 System ships with the Extrik-8-R seatbelt cutter, a solidly constructed tool that serves a wide range of uses beyond cutting seatbelts.
The sheath is large to accommodate the knife, and adds to the aggressive look of the tool. A strip of reflective material is sewn on a flap-covered pouch, which contains the Extrik-8-R seatbelt cutter, which features an oxygen bottle key and a flathead screwdriver integrated into the tool. The reflective strip provides some visibility in dark environments, much like the reflective material on your turnout gear. The hook and loop (Velcro®) could be thicker to make it harder for the flap to open on its own or when the user bumps against something. However, the retaining strap and snap for the knife handle are a tight fit, requiring some effort to close the snap, which keeps the knife securely in the sheath.
When testing the MAK-1, my first thought was how it could be carried. A 3" loop sewn onto the backside of the sheath allows you to attach it to a belt, but that could also limit where you can carry it. However, with some creativity, you could make it work just about anywhere you wanted.
The knife sports a unique look. It does not have a traditional “pointed” tip; instead, it’s blunt with a chisel-like tip with angled (beveled) edges. You can run a finger over the blade with a slight amount of pressure and not cut your finger. Note: Although the tool doesn’t look sharp, it will cut.
The first test I performed with the MAK-1 was to cut a seatbelt. Although the tool works well cutting toward you, I found that cutting away from your body seemed to work better—but I don’t think the victim would want to see the blade coming at them. You must apply considerable effort to the knife to make it work effectively. I performed the same test with the Extrik-8-R seatbelt cutter. It worked better when you pulled toward your body than pushing away.
Because of the unique design of the MAK-1 blade, it can also be used to pry. I performed several prying tests and was able to pry open the top of a closed car door enough to slip in an air bladder and to allow another person to manipulate a small rod or hanger. I also pried open a car trunk enough to reveal a partial view of the trunk.
The window twist breaker works on partially opened windows as long as you can slip the knife handle in width-wise. I also used the carbide breaker tip and attempted to break a window. This was the only test that did not turn out well. The tip dulled after the first attempt and it took several tries before the window finally broke. When it did, my hand went through the window along with the knife—less than ideal, although the tool did accomplish the task.
The bottom line: In the hands of a trained professional, the possibilities are endless with this tool.