The author discusses rescue knives, blades purpose-built with materials and features meant to aid people in need.
Rescue knives are an integral part of first responders’ most important gear. They serve as multi-purpose cutting tools like other knives and are heavily relied upon during various rescue operations. Let’s look at the latest rescue knives available on the market.
Emerson Knives took its existing SARK (Search and Rescue Knife) folder, adapting it to the U.S. Navy’s specifications, and thus the NSAR (Navy Search and Rescue) was born. The 3.5-inch 154CM hawkbill-style blade features a blunt tip and a recessed cutting hook ground into the spine. Other features include an integral thumb rest and Emerson’s signature Wave remote opener designed to catch on the hem of a pants pocket and pull the folding blade open as the knife is withdrawn.
The ergonomic G-10 handle showcases an integral front hand guard, palm swell in the middle, and grooves at the thumb rest and rear positions to provide a non-slip grip in any condition. At a little over 8 inches long, the NSAR is a knife that can handle many emergency cutting tasks. A steel pocket clip secures the folder tip-up in the pocket, a configuration that works well with the Wave remote opener. An optional ambidextrous thumb disk deploys the blade more traditionally.
One of the things I like is the hawkbill blade with a reverse curve that gathers material as it cuts. Customers have a choice of a plain or partially serrated blade, the latter ideal for cutting through tough, fibrous materials. The blunt tip makes it easy to work around accident victims without fear of further injury.
In my tests, the recessed hook worked well, cutting anything that would gather inside its curved diameter. The flat-ground blade is sharpened on one side only like a chisel grind, yielding a keen and easy-to-hone edge. At the local scrapyard where I conducted real-life tests, the NSAR ripped through materials with ease, including seatbelts. It is a major league rescue tool in terms of design, construction and function. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for the Emerson NSAR is $299.95.
Anchoring the budget end of the spectrum is the Byrd Cara Cara Rescue 2. A value brand belonging to Spyderco, Byrd knives incorporate the same innovation and style of construction as more expensive Spyderco models, but with different materials that yield amazing value. Most folding rescue knives are on the high end of the price spectrum, placing them out of reach financially to many front-line blue-collar workers.
Measuring 3.9 inches long, the Cara Cara Rescue 2 blade is ground from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel and sports a fully serrated edge that munches through fibrous materials. The comet-shaped hole in the blade permits ease of one-handed opening and provides a more secure thumb purchase than a standard round hole, especially when wearing gloves.
Blunt Point Prevents Punctures
The blunt point of the sheepsfoot blade prevents accidental punctures during use. The fiberglass-reinforced nylon (FRN) handle promotes a comfortable, non-slip grip thanks to the unique bi-directional texturing along with grooving, or jimping, on the handle spine. The handle feels solid and showcases dual nested steel liners and screw-together construction. A four-way pocket clip allows the user to select from left- or right-handed, tip-up or tip-down carry. Once open, the blade locks into place solidly. The mid-handle placement of the lock release itself makes it possible to unlock the blade and close it using one hand.
I noticed the handle’s lack of significant chamfering and contouring. Less machining is necessary with a moldable FRN handle, translating into a lower price point. Yes, the Byrd Cara Cara Rescue 2 can feel a bit blocky in hand, but the straightforward design results in a secure grip and a knife that is easy to manipulate when wearing thick gloves typical to a first responder.
Spyderco engineers some of the finest fully serrated folding knives on the market, with the Byrd Cara Cara Rescue 2 being one of them. The blade easily eats through the toughest materials—cardboard, seatbelts and thick tie-down straps being no match. The comfortable, ergonomic handle rests securely in the palm to instill user confidence. Comfortable to carry in a pants pocket or inner waistband, the thin profile doesn’t add bulk, yet feels good in the grip.
The 8Cr13MoV steel is a Chinese equivalent to Japanese AUS-8, a good mid-range alloy that balances edge holding with ease of maintenance and cost. To those looking for a quality rescue knife on a budget, the Byrd Cara Cara Rescue 2 is the answer. With an MSRP of $53, it is made in China to Spyderco’s exacting specifications.
When it comes to high-end rescue knives, the Benchmade Auto Triage 9170SBK is a serious piece in any emergency kit. A member of Benchmade’s Black Class line of professional rescue and tactical knives, the Auto Triage packs a bunch of innovations into one comprehensive tool. The 3.5-inch Bohler N680 stainless modified drop-point blade sports a partially serrated edge for cutting versatility. Benchmade’s dual-purpose Auto Axis Lock secures the blade open and seconds as a blade release for the auto-opening folder. Pulling back on the lock release opens the blade automatically.
The Auto Triage rests securely in the hand and is easy to operate and completely ambidextrous. An ergonomic handle is constructed of T6-6061 aluminum with a Type III hard-coat black anodized finish. Black G-10 handle inlays provide additional hand purchase, and the grip also features a safety cutting hook for seatbelts and clothing. Pulling back on the lock release button close to the rear of the handle activates the cutting hook that is otherwise tucked away until needed. This is the only cutting hook on the market that is automatically deployed.
At first blush, I thought the automatic cutting hook might be overkill, but in considering the thick gloves first responders wear, combined with the stress and adrenaline rush of being in the moment, having an auto-deploying hook makes total sense. The pull-down release works well with gloved hands as opposed to fumbling around while attempting to use a manual rescue hook. A deep-carry pocket clip allows tip-up right-hand carry and a carbide glass breaker at the end of the handle shatters car and other windows with ease.
Right off the bat, from the build of the handle, users can see the Auto Triage is a stout knife easily manipulated wearing gloves. While it might feel blocky in hand, when gripping the handle with gloves, one becomes aware of its presence and the knife feels secure. Because there is a secondary cutting hook to manage seatbelts and clothing, the main blade is designed with a sharpened tip. The true rescue tool that it is, Benchmade’s Auto Triage is every bit as much a working folder for general cutting tasks.
Partial edge serrations on the modified drop-point blade easily power through stubborn materials. The flat grind of the blade is another aspect of its exceptional cutting performance, with a thin but strong edge that sails through cutting media with little effort. The Auto Axis Lock release is intuitive and truly ambidextrous, allowing for quick and easy blade release with either hand. It is especially crucial in emergencies for professionals who use whatever hand is available to deploy the blade or cutting hook.
The vanadium and nitrogen inherent to the N680 steel help boost its anti-corrosion properties. The cutting hook works quickly, gathering material as it cuts and slices through seatbelts as easily as pulling a zipper. The keen hook bites into webbing and clothing with little effort and a sliding switch safety on the main blade prevents the Auto Axis Lock from inadvertently deploying the blade. Located on the handle spine just behind the lock release buttons, the sliding safety switch is easily accessed.
Overall, the Benchmade Auto Triage 9170SBK is a professional, high-quality tool that feels great and secure in the hand and doubles as a general-use folding knife, which further makes it that much more attractive. The Auto Triage isn’t a single-purpose tool like other rescue knives. With an MSRP of $350, the Benchmade Auto Triage is a high-end rescue tool.
Leatherman Tool Group, the company that pioneered pliers-based multi-tools, takes a different approach to a rescue tool in the form of its Raptor Rescue Shears. Modeled after high-leverage emergency medical technician (EMT) trauma shears, the Raptor Rescue incorporates several features that make it a unique rescue tool.
The Raptor Rescue features several of the most used implements for removing clothing from rescue victims. For starters, the blades of the main shears are each over 1/8-inch thick, and sport super sharp cutting edges. This tool quickly cuts through thick material like nylon webbing and jeans. The full-size handle’s finger loops accommodate gloved hands and folding the Raptor Rescue allows easy access and employment of the tools and other built-in functions.
Such tools and functions include a carbide glass breaker for shattering side windows of vehicles, a fold-out cutting hook for seatbelts and other fibrous materials, and an oxygen bottle wrench. There’s even a built-in wire cutter behind the pivot of the shears, taking advantage of leverage at that location. The Leatherman Raptor Rescue folds into a compact, easy-to-carry package. The handle halves fold onto themselves, and there’s an ingenious lock on each handle that prevents the tool grips from folding up while in use.
The heavy-duty plastic holster accompanying the Raptor is designed to keep the tool close at hand until it is needed and does so in one of two positions. First, when the tool is folded, the Raptor slides into the holster and is secured by a pocket clip fastened over the lip of the sheath. A second carry option is with the handles fully open. The blade inserts through a specially shaped hole in the bottom of the sheath, and the shears are locked into place inside the holster for carrying the Raptor in the open position and secured with a locking tab. This method is the most ideal, as one doesn’t have to fiddle with opening the handles. Just grab the shears and go.
Speaking of being on the go, the MSRP of the Leatherman Raptor is $89.95 in case you want to take one home with you.
Tactical And Rescue Knives
Hogue Knives is a major player in the tactical and rescue knife market. The company designed its Trauma First Response Tool from the ground up as a full-service rescue knife that has all the tools any first responder could need on a call. The Trauma is offered in a choice of a sheepsfoot blade or an opposing-bevel blunt-tip configuration. For this article, Hogue sent the opposing-bevel blade with a partially serrated edge and an orange G-10 handle.
The Bohler N680 blade is corrosion resistant with additional nitrogen added to the alloy mix. The opposing-bevel grind of the 3.4-inch blade gives it additional strength in the cross-section, and a blunt tip helps greatly reduce injury to accident victims while cutting seatbelts and clothing. Dual thumb studs permit it to be easily opened with either hand, and the blade is secured open by Hogue’s ABLE Lock, a truly ambidextrous crossbar design that is strong and safe.
The highly visible, ergonomic orange G-10 handle integrates dual stainless liners for strength, and a large finger groove helps index the user’s grip. The thumb rest area of the handle spine has traction notches for a non-slip grip. The handle also incorporates a few important tools that are handy for rescue personnel. First, there is a fold-out cutting hook for performing pull-cuts through seatbelt webbing and clothing as easily as pulling a zipper. A single thumb stud deploys the cutting hook easily, and though a detent secures the hook in the open position, unlike the Benchmade Auto Triage, it doesn’t fully lock open.
There’s also an oxygen bottle wrench incorporated into the left side of the handle, and the final tool on board is a carbide glass breaker in the handle spacer. The glass breaker easily shatters vehicle side windows. Hogue offers two convenient carry options for the Trauma—a deep-carry, tip-up pocket clip and a sturdy ballistic nylon belt sheath.
The Trauma’s cutting performance is top-notch, with the partially serrated blade easily zipping through tough materials. The plain edge portion of the blade is sharpened on one side only, making it easier to maintain. Being a rescue tool, not a working utility knife, edge dings are not a primary concern. The straight-line edge makes the blade perform like a sheepsfoot model, and the serrations aggressively eat through fibrous materials. The cutting hook works nearly as well as the Benchmade Auto Triage, but as noted, does not lock open. This could be a slight inconvenience so long as the user does not lift it accidentally when employing the hook. Any cutting media is easily severed inside the hook. While using the knife with gloved hands is a cinch, accessing the hook can be a bit deliberate, as one needs to open it with the thumb.
I particularly like the look of an orange handle with a black blade. While orange makes the knife stand out, the Trauma is also available in a black G-10 handle. The MSRP for the Hogue Trauma tested here is $199.99.
Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt of KNIVES 2024, 44th Edition.
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