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Explosion of colors make rotator visually compelling
Sometimes it makes no sense to fight the obvious
Revamped site is designed to attract new talent to field
New Accounting Package among many new improvements
Exposure to needles, airborne drugs are new dangers towmen face
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What's Your Company's Cellphone Policy?

tbo2 70b09By Randall C. Resch

While we're quick to climb on the bandwagon and blame distracted drivers failing to move over and cause tow operator fatalities, it's commonplace to see tow operators talking on their cellphones while driving, loading, unloading or recovering vehicles.

Use of personal cellphones in today's workplace is prevalent and interrupts employee focus and efficiency. By the very nature of what tow operators do, the combined use of cellphones with tow truck operations is a dangerous practice.

If reproaching motorists for distracted driving is an ongoing practice by towers, shouldn't there be a demand for towmen not to be distracted in the same way?

The Rules Say

It's simple to accept that when a company's Employee Handbook doesn't address the issue of prohibiting on-duty cellphone use, doing so may not violate a company's rules or procedures. If a company cellphone is provided to a driver and you require your drivers or employees to use it, a different set of guidelines and actions may be necessary.

Some companies supply employees with phones and stipulate that minimum personal use is OK. Some say, "No way!" Others monitor phone records. That's fine; but what designates dangerous use vs. social and untimely, in-the-way, distracting conversations at the wrong time?

I believe social interraction and roadside safety are at opposing ends of the sepctrum.

Towing and recovery businesses should demand that employees focus on the duties and activities of their position at all times. Personal cellphones tend to get in the way of an employee's ability to conduct work. Policy should be directed at limiting cellphone use only during the employee's breaks, on lunch, for emergency purposes and official business.

Employees should not use cellphones for personal business, unless for monitoring children, elderly or sick parents. Calls should be limited when involved in company activities. Much of an employee's use during company hours should be left to an honor system and not abused.

As driving and talking on cellphones proves to be a consistent cause of distracted driving and traffic accidents, tow drivers should be required to pull off the roadway away from traffic to conduct business conversations. Remember, if the ignition's on and you're on the cellphone ... well, you know the drill. Drivers who are cited for talking on cellphones or texting while driving are responsible for the outcome of the citation.

At-fault accidents generate point deductions where determined by the investigating officer on-scene or the DMV. Any accident caused by cellphone or texting use is considered an at-fault accident and chargeable to the driver's motor vehicle report point count. An at-fault accident can result in disciplinary action or dismissal if deemed not insurable by the company's insurance provider.

Using them for on-scene photos could be conisdered a violation of law enforcement contracts when not authorized.

Mechanics and forklift operators should not use cellphones while driving, loading or conducting off-loading activities. If it's necessary to talk with a supervisor or dispatcher related to recovery scenes or customer interractions, recovery actions should remain separate until conversations are completed.

A tow operator's on-scene responsibilities are too important to include cellphone conversation. Sure, cellphones are a necessary evil and I highly doubt that management can control their use 100 percent of the time. However, setting small yet reasonable guidelines and expectations should not be considered excessive.

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, and is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame.

The Dangers of Nighttime Recoveries

Nighttime.recovery 5e91aBy Randall C. Resch

There's an obvious difference working daytime accidents vs. recoveries during nighttime hours. Once the sun is down, dangers and risks go up 100-fold. Nighttime recoveries are difficult and problematic; some are downright dangerous and shouldn't be worked when it's dark.

Towers should consider several questions before attempting dangerous nighttime recoveries. Consider four safety "requests" regarding reasonable on-scene safety:

Do agency requirements demand all recoveries are conducted at night?

What comparable assets are required to conduct nighttime recoveries?

Is the recovery site accessible from another location?

Can towers communicate danger and safety over priority?

Fighting the Obvious

In 2012, a nighttime recovery scenario wound up being the 75th rescue by the Malibu Search and Rescue Team of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. A motorcyclist drove off a cliff on California's infamous Mulholland Highway in Malibu. The motorcycle rider wasn't seriously injured and climbed to the top of the steep embankment to seek help. The motorcycle continued hundreds of feet further down the cliff into an abyss of darkness.

Around 9:30 p.m., two tow operators decided it was routine to try and retrieve the motorcycle. With extra cable over one tower's shoulder, one tower allegedly climbed over the side, descending to the motorcycle. Due to darkness and unstable, rocky conditions, the tower slipped and slid beyond the motorcycle, approximately 50' farther. The tower was able to hang onto sparse bushes until he could be rescued.

News reports stated that the Sheriff's SAR Team spent more than two hours working to rescue the tow operator. The tower's decision to attempt a nighttime recovery obviously didn't include evaluating all dangers that lurked in the darkness.

Comparably, CHP requested two tow trucks respond to a two-vehicle accident in the San Diego county mountains where a DUI motorist collided with another vehicle head-on. Because the impact caused both vehicles to go over the embankment about 200' down, they came to rest against another stolen vehicle that was unknowingly there. The terrain was dark, steep and littered with cactus and shale-type rocks.

To have worked that recovery at nighttime would have required a number of additional personnel, police vehicles and tons of flares. With extremely hazardous conditions that existed because of California's drought, the amount of flares required would have created an extremely dangerous fire hazard. Since both vehicle occupants were eventually transported to area hospitals, there was no reason to recover the vehicles that night.

Another deciding factor was that the county's backroads had a fair share of intoxicated nighttime drivers headed to parts east or local casinos. Ultimately, our incident commander openly agreed that the nighttime environment was too risky to attempt recovery.

Having carefully evaluated all dangers and pending risks, the CHP authorized us to work the recovery the next day. Our recovery plan included returning with three wreckers and one carrier outfitted with additional lengths of cable. CalTrans arrived with a compliment of traffic trucks and cones setting up control above and below the recovery site.

With CHP on-scene, CalTrans deployed an escort truck bringing traffic up and down the mountain. Once traffic controls were in place, three wreckers, strategically positioned side-by-side, hooked-up to a casualty vehicle where all three were winched up the embankment at the same time. The daylight recovery was a total success.

It Makes Sense

Towers should develop good communication skills along with common sense that fully identifies the recovery plan, especially when recoveries entail a fair level of danger. While I believe that towers should do everything possible to satisfy the needs of law enforcement, working smarter and not harder is best when deploying all safety tactics that strive for successful recoveries.

Nowhere in any rotation contract is it written that responding tow truck operators are required to put themselves in harm's way, especially if there's a better way to reach the safety objective. I believe it's better to avoid a dangerous situation than to confront it, especially when dangerous conditions are obvious.

In the motorcycle recovery attempt, the rescued tower survived this harrowing account; however, he risked the possibility of death or injury all for the price of a recovery.

So, at what point does common sense dictate safety?

As Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV, "The better part of valor is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life."

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame, and, a recipient of the 2017 Dave Jones Leadership Award.
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