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What are the Jaws of Life™?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Jaws of Life™ are a family of hydraulic tools which are used in rescue operations. Classically, hydraulic rescue tools are used in auto extrication, to get accident victims out safely and quickly, although they can also be used in structure collapses. Many people refer to any hydraulic rescue tool as the Jaws of Life™, although this is technically incorrect, since the name is actually a trademark for a group of tools manufactured by Hurst Performance.

There are three ways in which the Jaws of Life™ can be used in a rescue operation. In the first case, the tool simply cuts through metal and other obstacles to provide quick access. Other tools can be designed for spreading, in which case they are inserted into the frame of a car and then spread apart to create an opening for easy access. Others are rams, designed to push the dashboard up and out of the way. The Jaws of Life™ can also combine several functions together in one tool, with a variety of combination tools available.

Tremendous force is required to cut through the frame of the car or to spread a twisted car frame apart. The Jaws of Life™ generates this force with the use of hydraulic pistons, and it requires a power source, along with a steady hand. While this tool works quickly and effectively, the user must also have some skills when it comes to determining where to cut and spread. Many rescue workers also routinely practice so that they are familiar with the use of the tool.

Hydraulic rescue tools were originally designed for use on the racetrack, where high speed collisions can be devastating. The Jaws of Life™ design was introduced in the 1970s, and it quickly became popular with emergency responders as well as safety officers at race tracks. Many fire departments today have a hydraulic rescue tool available for use, along with officers who have received training in how to use the tool.

Watching the Jaws of Life™ in action can be quite amazing. For people who are interested in seeing a hydraulic rescue tool in operation, many fire departments hold periodic training sessions with donated cars which members of the public may be permitted to watch. Demonstrations of hydraulic rescue tools are also sometimes held at open houses, or at high schools as part of educational programs which are designed to promote safe driving habits.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon305007 — On Nov 23, 2012

It would cost way too much money to put a jaws of life apparatus into every car. They would have to at least size it so injured people to use it, because 99 percent of the time when you need to use this rescue tool, you are seriously injured or trapped, so you wouldn't be able to use it anyway.

By anon147949 — On Jan 31, 2011

do you know how expensive these are? and there's no way you could cut yourself out from the inside. 99.9 percent of the time when the jaws are needed, you're going to the hospital and most stations carry a spreader, cutter and ram, which are three separate tools and take several men to remove you from your car. sorry but this won't work.

By TrogJoe19 — On Dec 06, 2010


I think these are legitimate points, but I still think that the benefit would save time and possibly lives if there were Jaws of Life™ stored on the outside of certain vehicles for use by rescuers.

By Renegade — On Dec 04, 2010


I think that this is an interesting idea, but needs some rethinking. If every car had a Jaws of Life™ installed, what would the cost/benefit ratio really be? Not every car gets in a metal-twisting accident which traps the driver. Even if a car were to be in such an accident, would he or she be able to reach the jaws? And finally, the jaws could possibly prove to be a "weapon" of sorts for drivers prone to road rage.

By TrogJoe19 — On Dec 01, 2010

Wouldn't it be helpful if cars were made with a built in Jaws of Life™ in case of emergency? It seems to me that this would be a helpful safety precaution in addition to wearing a seatbelt, having an active airbag, etc. Drivers could be trained in using the jaws in order to pry their way out of a damaged car.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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