Words of Wisdom

from the Professionals

[Featured image for this page: Cari Robertson of Clover Towing says education and training, especially through WreckMaster courses, is the key to success – photo: Sarah Bruce]

Over the years, I have interviewed numerous professionals in the towing and recovery industry, the following are their words of wisdom that have stuck with me ever since.

Originally published in Tow Canada, July-August 2021

by Sarah Bruce

Be empathetic with your customers. Sometimes their emotions get the best of them and they might lash out. Just remember, it was an accident that brought you to them.

“I always apologize for the inconvenience,” said Doug Siebert of AJ Towing. “We are usually helping people at their worst. I sometimes like to say we are psychiatrists too. Everyone always tells their life story to you. My dad says, ‘you gotta change your hat for whatever job you are doing.’ One day I’m a mechanic, the next a driver, then a psychiatrist.”

Enjoy time with your family when you can, because the phone could ring at anytime.

Dan Steinhauer believes in involving his family with his job as much as possible (Photo: Dan Steinhauer)

“It is said over and over again that it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle,” said Dan Steinhauer of Jim’s Towing in Oshawa, Ontario. “But, when you have a family at home, that lifestyle doesn’t just affect you, it affects everyone you live with. The key is to learn to just go with the flow and adapt as need be, not only as professionals in this amazing industry, but as parents. By setting this as a good example, our children will also learn to adapt and understand why we work hard to do what we do. We are the heroes of the highway and the heroes to our children. We spend every moment we can with them, but when the phone rings we jump into our trucks and fly off to help.”

Look after your team and support them. This could be as simple as a staff lunch once a month.

“We are very much about team and supporting one another,” said Tammy Vandenheuval of Preferred Towing in Sarnia, Ontario. “I cook a healthy lunch the last Friday of every month to help staff understand how to budget and how to cook healthy food so that they can remain healthy. A lot of these guys in and out of the trucks all day will just buy fast-food, so it’s very important for us that they stay healthy.”

It is fine to complain and vent when you need to, but try to focus on coming up with a solution and not just dwelling on the problem.

“Years ago, I was at a BCAA convention, and they said, ‘there are two types of people: problem sufferers and problem solvers, and you have to ask yourself, which one are you?’ Right then and there it clicked and stuck with me,” said Don Affleck of Peninsula Towing on Vancouver Island, B.C. “I’m a problem solver.” 

Burnout is real, so recognize when it comes along, and do not put off coping with it.

“To those who work the white line, I salute you,” said Shawn Michaud, a tower who did not realize he was burned out until it was too late and he had to retire from the industry. “You are truly tough individuals. However, after eight years, if I could give you one piece of advice it would be this: Lie, cheat, and steal. Lie with the one you love at night. Cheat death everyday, and steal time away from this industry before it consumes you.“

As a women in industry, Karen Ruggles says that if you want to tow, do it! (Photo courtesy Karen Ruggles)

For the women out there (and anyone really), if you want to be a tow truck driver, then do it! No one can stop you but you.

“I met up with a lady at the Moncton tow show,” said Karen Ruggles of Ruggles Towing in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. “She was from Maryland and she said to me, ‘if you want to drive a tow truck, then you just need to start doing it. Just go get in the truck and learn what you need to learn, and just go to [your employer] and say, ‘I want to be paid.’ So that’s what I did. I jumped in with my brother and fine-tuned what I knew.

“To the females wanting to be a part of the industry, don’t let anything stop you. Ask lots of questions and trust your instincts. Just because someone tells you something is right doesn’t mean that it is.”

Do not shy away from new and innovative technology. Maybe even consider a hybrid tow truck!

AJ Towing has a secret weapon for dealing with unhappy customers Colt the dog (Photo: Sarah Bruce)

“We become programmed as consumers to stick with the trusted, proven things and so taking a chance on something [new] can really hurt a business, but as hybrid technology has become more prevalent, I think it’s kind of a no-brainer,” said Nic Moretto of Mario’s Towing. “People can be pretty resistant to change and lack creativity when it comes to planning, so we were lucky that everyone came together and had a plan and it went from there. It makes you smile when you see [our hybrid truck] going down the road because you know it took effort to put it there.”

Doing a risk assessment when you arrive on a scene, even if it looks like a typical job, can protect you, not just physically, but also legally, if something goes wrong.

“You always have to do your risk assessment,” said Ken Hendricks, towing and recovery industry senior advisor at the Automotive Retailers Association. “Whether you think you are going to be there for five minutes or all day, you have to go through it. It’s your due diligence. If an accident does happen, or someone gets hit, you have to demonstrate you went through the risk assessment. The assessment can be used to protect towers, not just physically, but legally. In case of worst-case scenarios, a tower must be able to prove they assessed all hazards to the best of their ability.”

Ken Hepinstall believes in towing because you love it, that’s why he’s outfitted his tow truck to go off road (Photo courtesy Ken Hepinstall)

Training and education is key to having a successful towing and recovery team.

“It is important to me, as the general manager, that our staff receive the best training and are recognized for it,” said Cari Robertson of Clover Towing in Surrey, B.C. “It is also important to me that operators not only have training, but also that dispatchers and management are educated and trained so that they have a better understanding of what happens on tow and recovery scenes.

“So many people in the industry fight for territory and customer accounts that they forget we are all a team in the grand scheme of things. WreckMaster teaches you to be the best you can be with the tools you have, and it gives you a better understanding of what your truck and equipment is capable of, without exceeding the limits. Knowledge is powerful, and with the education and hands-on experience that WreckMaster provides, operators now have the right tools to do the job.”

It is not worth a few minutes saved if it means damaging vehicles and equipment or, worse, harming yourself.

“Don’t shortcut,” said Kellie Milton, who recently retired but was a dedicated professional (and role model to many) for nearly 50 years. “For the few minutes that will take just a little longer to get the job done to save yourself a bit of time, don’t even think about it. Do it the right way and do it right the first time and you’ll have a good night sleep instead of thinking ‘is that going to come back and bite me?’”

Invest in your trucks and equipment and keep it all well maintained.

“Our oldest vehicle is from 2016,” said Mike Flynn of Flynn Towing, in Grand Prairie, Alberta. “Everything now is within two to three years old. We don’t hold on to equipment long because I don’t like breakdowns and don’t like showing bad metal in the sense of older equipment. I like to be able to present a clean, new truck that everybody knows how to operate. The reliability is way up. We go on some long runs and I’m sending people out where there is no cell service, so all our trucks have GPS on them and we run towbook so we know where everybody is at all times. If there is an issue, I’m texting and calling to find out what’s going on. Safety is the number one factor, and you pay for it, but in actuality, you don’t pay for it, because you can put your head down at night knowing they’re in a safe truck.”

And most importantly, whenever possible, love what you do, because you are out there helping people. “Anywhere we are, we are there because someone wanted us to be there,” said Keith McLachlan of Vernon’s Towing in Vernon, B.C. “So, we have a much more redeeming sense of satisfaction for the service that we provide. We are helping people: unlocking cars, changing tires, boosting batteries, recovering when they slide off a lonesome stretch of road, getting them out of ditches, and ensuring people get to where they are supposed to be.”