Beam of Life Device Could Save Car Accident Victims


Two students at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., are working on commercializing a battery-operated laser cutter that could help first responders shave minutes off the time it takes to free someone trapped in a crashed vehicle. The students, Adam Odgaard and John Benjamin, say the device is quieter and generates fewer sparks than hydraulic cutters currently used by rescue workers.

The tool, dubbed the Beam of Life Device (BOLD), can cut 300 feet of half-inch-thick steel in six minutes on a single battery charge. Odgaard said he and Benjamin found that an average extrication takes nine to 15 minutes. Odgaard said the BOLD could be at least three minutes faster than that. A proposed backpack design could help rescuers get into tighter spaces than hydraulic tools.

The current prototype, a desktop model, was developed by Tim Bradley, an engineer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind. The next step is for Odgaard and Benjamin to secure funding to develop a smaller prototype in which the power supply fits in a 50-pound backpack connected to a wand that a firefighter could operate single handedly. The target weight for the device is comparable to the weight of similar tools on the market, such as the Hurst Jaws of Life line of tools, to which the BOLD is being positioned as an alternative.

“You have to be able to get the shears in there, and then when the shears are going it will work against you and tire out most of the rescue responders trying to cut through steel,” Benjamin said. With the BOLD, “you don’t have to create an entry for your cutters to be placed inside the vehicle.”

The BOLD also does away with carbon dioxide emissions so rescue workers won’t have exhaust from the device blowing back at them.

Odgaard and Benjamin, who both study entrepreneurship, expect development of a smaller prototype to take about six months. That will be followed by a year of testing and evaluation with fire departments. The BOLD could be available for purchase by the end of 2012.

In 2009, more than 8,600 people were involved in motor vehicle crashes that required extrication, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That number has been steadily rising, according to Frank Pintar, a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Pintar is part of a team that’s studying how to improve extrication methods.

There have been instances, Pintar said, where firefighters have endangered themselves or each other while attempting extrications. He sees a place in the field for a device like the BOLD if it can reduce the likelihood of those injuries.

“I don’t see this taking the place of the Jaws of Life,” he said. “It sounds like it’s obviously a quieter device, and it might work just as well as a Sawzall without the dust flying all over the place and that kind of thing.”

One advantage of hydraulic tools is that they support portions of a vehicle being cut. “In extrication you can’t just cut metal,” he said, “because sometimes a crumpled [piece of] metal that you cut will collapse the rest of the car and you’ll actually endanger the occupant or other firefighters by doing that. So a hydraulic device actually adds stability to a crumpled car as opposed to just cutting things away.”

Hydraulic cutters and spreaders are useful, Pintar said, when an occupant’s limb is trapped in some kind of sheet metal. Where the BOLD would be useful is when an occupant is trapped in a car without being entangled by metal. “Let’s say you would cut all the A-pillars of the car and just take the roof off, and then extricate the occupant from the top of the roof,” he said. “Then this device might come in handy, but essentially that’s what a Sawzall will do as well.”

Odgaard and Benjamin are not the only ones attempting to market a battery-powered rescue tool. Both Hurst and Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp., maker of the Sawzall reciprocating saw, market battery-powered tools.
By: Corey McKenna


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