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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Breaking a car window isn’t easy, as Spokane police officer discovered while rescuing woman

This wreckage is the car Kim Novak was driving Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 when it died on a street, then caught fire. Novak barely survived the fire, rescued by Officer Tim Schwering of the Spokane Police. PHOTO COURTESY OF KIM NOVAK (PHOTO COURTESY OF KIMBERLY NOVAK / PHOTO COURTESY OF KIMBERLY NOVAK)

As the car burned, Spokane police Officer Tim Schwering hammered on the passenger-side window. Despite repeated blows with his night stick, it took precious minutes to create a hole large enough to pull the woman trapped inside, Kimberly Novak, out and to safety.

Novak’s car quit running unexpectedly as she was driving down the road and she found herself trapped inside. She called for help as flames came out from under the hood. Schwering was only a mile or two away and quickly responded. He found Novak vainly trying to break the back seat windows as she tried to move away from the smoke flooding her vehicle.

The drama was captured on Schwering’s body camera and the video has been shared far and wide. Since then Schwering has been the subject of frequent interviews and also spoke at a local Rotary group on Thursday. He joked to the crowd, which later gave him a standing ovation, that he wouldn’t have cursed so much if he’d known the video was going to end up on CNN and all over the internet.

The officer’s struggle also highlighted a danger that wasn’t apparent to local police – that the seemingly simple task of breaking a car window could become much harder.

Starting in 2018 all new vehicles must have side windows made of laminated glass, much like current windshield glass, according to new federal regulations. Although the regulation hasn’t gone into effect, many newer cars already have side windows made of laminated glass.

The rule is designed to reduce ejections during accidents and make smash-and-grab burglaries more difficult. But an unintended side effect is that it’s now harder for first responders to get into vehicles.

Shane Phillips, spokesman for the Spokane Police Department, said the department didn’t know about the new regulations. Watching the video, recorded on Schwering’s body camera, Phillips wondered why the glass was so hard to break.

“The first thing we will do is make sure all of our troops know about it (the change),” Phillips said.

Eventually, Phillips said, the kinds of tools officers carry might change.

The new regulations won’t impact the Spokane Fire Department, said Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer.

“The tools that we carry and we train on are capable of going through both types of glass,” he said.

Albert Vangura is the president of We Cut the Glass, a Pennsylvania-based company that manufactures small, hand-held glass cutters.

On Friday, Vangura presented Schwering with a Rhyno Windshield Cutter. Vangura came to Spokane after he saw the video of Schwering’s rescue.

“I knew this was going to happen,” he said. “I’m so glad Kim is alive.”

Vangura demonstrated how to use the small device, which looks like a hair dryer, in front of the Spokane County Public Safety Building.

“That would have made it a lot easier,” Schwering said, while watching Vangura slice through a panel of laminated glass.

Novak, the woman trapped in the car, was also there for the demonstration. “That would have saved me a lot of heartache,” she said.

Vangura has been selling the devices, which cost about $700, for five years. His primary customers are fire departments and rescue units. However, in the future he’s hoping to sell more to police departments.

Staff reporter Nina Culver contributed to this report.