Defining the term “rescue knife” can be a little trickier than it might seem. Probably the best place to start is with the primary users of this cutlery category. The first that come to mind are LE, fire crews, paramedics and ambulance personnel. Most of these occupations are also covered by specialized units within the military. As a general class, rescue knives are usually defined by certain design characteristics.
EMT Carry Shears And Knives
The first is a means to safely cut seat belts, webbing and clothing off injured individuals. When you interview emergency personnel about this need, you quickly find they break down into three basic groups. The first group will tell you that knives are totally unnecessary for these tasks as blunt nosed EMT utility shears are much safer and more effective. While researching this article, I also discovered another advantage of EMT shears; they tend to be extremely inexpensive, especially if you buy them in quantity. I assume this makes it easier to simply dispose of used shears rather than running them through an autoclave to remove a potential biohazard.
About the time you are convinced EMT shears are the only way to go, you meet an emergency services worker who feels equally strong that knives are far superior. The standard reasons given tend to be that knives have more utility functions, they can be resharpened easier, are often sharper to begin with, and offer serrated edges that are better suited to cutting fiber.
Our third group consists of those individuals who take what seems like a totally reasonable approach to me, and carry both shears and knives. Each tool has its advantages and neither weigh that much, so why limit your options? More and more emergency services personnel seem to be joining this last group.
Seat Belt Cutters & Windshield Breakers
Along with the fixed blade versus folder issue, you can generally divide rescue knives into two general subcategories. The first are the minimalist, single function, seat-belt cutting hooks. These can be either folding or fixed blade but they usually have very little limited use outside of cutting webbing. The upside is that they are normally exceptionally compact and lightweight so they are not a burden to carry along with other more general-purpose cutting tools.
On the other end of the spectrum are the rescue knives with relatively conventional blades and handles. Most, but not all, utilize blunt, unsharpened points for safely cutting clothing off victims. As a rule, the edges will be at least partially serrated and there will be a webbing cutter built into either the blade or the handle. In recent years, almost all of these knives have also included a hardened window-breaking point someplace on the handle. A few more advanced models spring-load this function. Once the basic cutting functions are covered, a rescue knife’s design features are only limited by the creativity of the designer. Whistles, LED lights, flex cuff cutters, saws, screwdrivers, wrenches, and light hammers are all common.
Benchmade: A couple of Benchmade’s newer models aimed at the EMT market are their Model 10105 ERT-1 and Model 7 Hook/Strapcutter. The ERT-1 is an especially interesting model in that it has a one-hand-opening strap cutting hook, an LED light and a spring-loaded window breaker built into the handle. Benchmade’s Model 7 on the other hand is a classic example of the single-purpose strap cutter. At 1.6 ounces, you will never know it is there until you need it. Both models come in nylon belt pouches. A Benchmade customer told them, “A seatbelt cutter can help save Soldiers’ lives two ways: by giving them the confidence to buckle up, protecting them from rollover, sudden vehicle stops or direction changes, and by being able to cut the belt to escape quickly in the event of a rollover, fire or water hazard.” (SGM Thomas W. Coleman, U.S. Army Soldier System Center/PEO Soldier.) Visit: benchmade.com
Boker Knives: Boker Knives cover the same two extremes with the Chad Los Banos designed “Rescom” and the Jim Wagner designed “Reality Based Emergency.” The Rescom is a compact folder with a 1-7/8 inch long seatbelt-and-rope-cutting hook for a blade. While the tool is fairly specialized, it takes up next to no space on a duty belt and only weighs 2.4 ounces. The Reality Based Emergency is a bit more utilitarian with a rounded point 4-inch blade, serrated primary edge, seatbelt-cutting hook, and window-breaking point on the end of the handle. Both black and red ABS handles are offered. Visit: bokerusa.com
Buck Knives: Before more specialized tools were developed, the classic emergency services “rescue knife” was probably the basic Buck 110 folding lock back. Their current entry in the rescue market is the “Code 3 CrossLock.” In general, this folder is a little less specialized than many of the knives in the field. It features two blades, one a 3-inch spear point with a straight edge and the other a rounded point sheepsfoot with a serrated edge. The handle is bright red anodized aluminum.
Buck’s new 730 X-Tract multitool has a lot of potential as a rescue knife. It includes a conventional 3-inch blade with a partially serrated edge, pliers, can opener, two screw-driver points, and an LED flashlight. All functions are completely one-hand opening. Visit: buckknives.com
Columbia River Knife and Tool: In early 2007, CRKT added an entire line of “Emergency Rescue.” Among other useful models, the Extrik-8-R and the 2604 ER stand out. The Extrik-8-R offers a basic strap cutting hook on a loop handle that also servers as an oxygen-bottle wrench and screwdriver. The 2604 ER is a modification of an earlier diving knife that offers three cutting edges on one blade, a serrated spine, straight-edge primary and a square chisel edge point, all on a bright orange Zytel handle. Visit: crkt.com
Gerber: When Gerber wanted the perfect EMT knife they went to part time knife maker/full time fireman Rick Hinderer for the design. The red handled folder includes a belt-cutter blade, window punch, oxygen-tank wrench, and 3.5 inch, blunt tipped one-hand-opening primary blade. In general, this is a heavy-duty tool well suited to professional use. Visit: gerbergear.com
Kershaw Knives: Kershaw’s two primary entries to the field are the “Rescue Blur” and the “Responder” fixed blade. The Rescue Blur is one of the company’s large family of Ken Onion designed assisted-opening folders. What makes it special is its rounded, unsharpened tip, serrated edge and window-breaking point on the end of the handle. The handle frame is red anodized aluminum with “Trac-Tec” inserts for better gripping.
The Responder offers a Teflon-coated 3.75-inch blade with a blunt, screw-driver/pry bar tip, partially serrated primary edge and a web-belt-cutting hook on the spine of the knife. Handles are available in both black and neon yellow “Santoprene” with a window-breaking tip on the pommel. The sheath is Kydex. Vist: kershawknives.com
SOG Specialty: SOG Specialty’s latest entry into the rescue knife field is the “Bi-Polar.” The folder offers two assisted opening blades with the first a conventional 3-inch clip-point and the second a patented “V-Cutter” for webbing. Naturally, there is a window-breaking point on the end of the handle. Another useful feature of the Bi-Polar is the dual luminous disks set in the handle frame to make the knife more visible under low-light situations. Visit: sogknives.com
Their “SOG Trident” is a 3.75-inch assisted-opening main blade. The knife features the “Groove” system for cutting webbing. Rather than a separate blade, the Groove is a fairly conventional slot in the handle that exposes a small section of the edge when the knife is closed.
Spyderco: From the start, Spyderco has been a leader in knives designed for emergency-services personnel. One of their more recent efforts is the “Assist.” The blunt tipped, serrated sheepsfoot blade can be opened one-handed by both the standard Spyderco hole or by what the company calls a “Cobra Hood” on the spine of the knife. Along with the Cobra Hood, the knife has several other unique features. By placing a rope across the handle, the blade can be folded and pressed down to “scissor” the line in two. If you press down on the spine of the closed blade, a window-breaking point appears on the end of the handle. Last, but not least, there is a whistle built into the handle!
When seconds count, having the means to cut webbing and break windows to free the victim of an accident can be the difference between life and death. You owe it to yourself to make sure you have the right tool for the job instantly available. Visit: spyderco.com