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Former L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon:…

What's in Your Car Can Save Your Life

Roland Sprewell is a fire captain and fire-service veteran who has been educating Southern Californians about fire and life safety for 25 years.

Road emergencies can happen anytime, anywhere. Being prepared can help you survive a major emergency. Consider what happened in a recent nationally publicized case, headlined "Man Drinks Wiper Fluid to Survive Desert Ordeal”:

An elderly man, driving to his home outside Phoenix, made a bad turn and crashed his car into a ditch. To make matters worse, his car and cell phone batteries died. He had no water, and the only food he had was a leftover plate of dried-up spaghetti. While awaiting rescue, he resorted to drinking windshield-wiper fluid in a desperate attempt to stay alive. 

Now before you say, “That could never happen to me,” consider what happened this winter in Southern California when thousands of motorists found themselves stranded on Interstate 5 (the Grapevine), near the Tejon Pass for two days, due to dangerously icy conditions. Most of those travelers were totally caught off guard, with no food, water or extra clothing as nearby motels quickly filled to capacity.

The reality is, if you live in Southern California and travel a lot, becoming stranded in your vehicle can happen anytime in any type of emergency: floods, brush fires, earthquakes or inclement whether. So don’t let it happen to you!

Here are eight “must-have” items to carry in your car at all times:

1. Blankets                                         

Spring is just around the corner, but Old Man Winter may still have a few more cold, wet and wintry punches up his sleeve before it’s all said and done. You should carry enough blankets for the average number of people that ride in your vehicle, and one for yourself. Although you might be able to use your vehicle’s heater to keep you warm for a while, if you’re stranded for several days or run out of gas, keeping your body’s core temperature up is vital until help arrives. You can also use blankets for warmth in case you have to leave your vehicle to find help.

2. Hats and spare clothing

Studies have shown that 30 to 40 percent of your body’s heat escapes through your head. “Beenies,” watch caps or even scarves that you can wrap around your head can help preserve the heat you need to maintain your body temperature. Also, always keep spare sweaters or coats and gloves in the car for such emergencies, especially for the kids.

3.  Nonperishable snacks and food

Angelenos should have this one down cold! Just like the nonperishable foods you keep in your home for earthquakes, you should have nutrition or energy bars, nuts, dried fruit, or canned goods such as chili, beans and canned spaghetti in your car. While it might not sound like the five-course meal you had in mind, trust me, as a firefighter who's had to camp out on the fire line during brush fires for a week or more, those canned goods will definitely seem like gourmet cuisine when you’re without food for a couple of days. Oh, and don’t forget the can opener.

4. Bottled water

My wife always keeps at least one pallet of water in each of our cars. More than once, one of my vehicles overheated and I had to use some of that water in the radiator. But the real reason we have it in our cars is, although people have been known to live without food for days and even weeks, just one day without water can throw your body into a tailspin, and eventually kill you. Keep plenty of water on hand.

5. LED flashlights

Don’t depend on your car’s battery to keep the headlights or the interior lights on. Batteries run down. That’s why you should have extra batteries for the flashlight as well. LED flashlights are known to last longer and and use less energy than an incandescent flashlight.

6. Outdated cell phone

You know that old drawer you have at home that has all the old electronic components and the outdated cell phones? Pull them out. Even without a service provider, most cell phone are able to call 911.

7. Small first-aid kit

If you have young kids, you probably keep a healthy supply of Barney or Power Ranger Band-Aids anyway. So add a few extra supplies including aspirin, sunscreen, roller bandages (Kerlix) for bleeding, Neosporin to prevent infection and instant ice packs. Most off-the-shelf kits have these items.

8. Little but important things

Small items can become lifesavers: matches, small hand tools, a whistle, pen and paper, fire extinguisher and a cell phone charger.

All of these supplies can be kept in one of those totes that are sold at Home Depot, Lowes and Target. If you spend a lot of time in your car, like most Southern Californians, with these eight “must-haves,” your car can become one of your most valued and trusted companions. 

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