Who knows what we would have done in the situation Michael Johannes, 51, of Minneapolis was in Sunday evening when his Chevy Trailblazer caught on fire?
It took the superhuman strength of Bob Renning, 52, of Woodbury to get him out of the burning vehicle, by bending the locked door.
It’s an amazing story, of course, that leaves out an answer to an important question: Why couldn’t Johannes get out?
“He was kicking and beating the window trying to break it open from the inside,” Renning told the Pioneer Press.
It’s every driver’s worse nightmare. An electrical system that’s kaput, keeping the power windows from working and neutering the little button that unlocks the car. Fact is: We think about these scenarios only when we’re on long highways with nothing else to do but wonder what we’d do if our electric-dependent car drove into the water with the windows up.
In the old days, of course, it was an easy answer: Crank the windows down. But windows don’t have cranks anymore.
And in another discussion a few weeks ago on Twitter, I forgot that vehicles — most vehicles, anyway — have a manual latch to unlock doors in the event of an electrical failure. Haven’t used it in years, haven’t thought about it, and with flames seconds away from killing you, it’s an easy oversight in the panic of the moment. And I’ve owned the car for 12 years.
A few weeks ago, I was momentarily frustrated when the battery died on the push-button door-unlock on my key chain. How would I get into my car? It’d been years since I used a key in a car’s door.
In the Chevy Trailblazer’s owners manual, six pages are dedicated to the automatic locks (shift into drive and the doors automatically lock, a nice feature that almost killed Mr. Johannes). One paragraph describes how to unlock the door when the power goes out.
Granted, it’s a General Motors vehicle so there’s a fair chance the thing that’s supposed to work didn’t work, but it’s also possible that Mr. Johannes was unfamiliar with the SUV, since he’d only bought it a week ago.
Our cars’ conveniences conspire to kill us. That’s why today I’m going to swing by the hardware store and buy a new option: a hammer to break windows if I need to get out of a burning vehicle. Because Bob Renning might not be around when I need him.