How to Pull Someone Out of a Burning Car

It's a situation you hopefully will never encounter. But, just in case, make sure you know what to do.

You will need

  • 911 rescue professionals
  • Scene assessment
  • Protective clothing
  • ABC fire extinguisher or garden hose
  • Safe spot
  • Passenger assessment
  • Extreme caution
  • Window-breaking tool (optional)

Step 1 Call 911 Call 911 before you do anything else. Do not approach the car until you’ve done so.

Step 2 Survey the scene Wait for help to arrive if circumstances make it unsafe to approach the car, such as downed power wires, an unstable vehicle, a fluid pool that may represent leaked gasoline, and oncoming traffic.

Step 3 Cover yourself If you decide to approach the car, cover as much of yourself as you can with whatever you have – jacket, gloves, hat, hood – to shield your skin from the heat.

Step 4 Stay safe Stand upwind and uphill if possible to protect yourself from smoke and noxious gases. Avoid standing directly in front of the tires and rear bumper because the fire could cause them to blow out. Make sure you always have a safe path to get away from the car so you’re not blocked in if the situation worsens.

Step 5 Extinguish the fire Make containing the fire your first priority. If you have an ABC fire extinguisher, spray the engine by aiming it through the front grille or a broken headlight. The next best thing is a garden hose, but be sure to set the nozzle on mist or you could make the fire worse. No mist option? Put your finger over the hose tip to create a fine spray.

Step 6 Help the passengers If you can’t contain the fire, try to get the passengers out. Make the easiest rescue first; look for the smallest or lightest person, or someone who’s easy to get to and can aid in their own rescue. Don’t get stuck on one trapped passenger when others can be saved.

Step 7 Don't make things worse If a passenger is injured, only move them if leaving them in the car is not an option. If you must pull them out, try to keep their head and neck aligned to prevent spinal injuries.

Step 8 Reassess the situation Constantly reassess the situation so you don’t put yourself in harm’s way. When the professionals arrive, back off and let them do their job.