Back To Basics: There’s more to recovery work than raw power


Published: 07/01/2011

by Bill Jackson


Picture by Brian Bolus

    Lately I have noticed articles in various publications on such subjects as “recovery chains” and “using blocks” where the authors have gone into fine detail on those particular products. I guess if you are an average tower, you may learn a lot from such articles, but still, I must ask, are we not forgetting the basics of heavy recovery, which seem to me largely ignored these days?
    The arrival on the scene of huge rotators allows drivers to arrive on-site, do a multi-chained hook-up, and be gone in under an hour. This is great for some, but it can lead to seriously bad recovery for others!
    I am writing about this issue so that if you ever have to face a belligerent prosecuting attorney, you have a better chance of answering his questions with the confidence that you won’t get tripped up.

Seeking Answers 

    Imagine that you handled a very serious incident and are later taken to court in a lawsuit to account for your failure to lift the loaded trailer in time to prevent a death. You are questioned on the witness stand as follows:
    Q: “Why did you take so long to release the trapped driver?”
    A: “I had great difficulty in getting to the incident as my big truck got bogged down some distance away.”
    Q: “How could this happen when you were directed to a paved route?”
    A: “I did not have any warning of the ground conditions on that route for a tow truck weighing 50,000 pounds.”
    Q: “What sort of training have you had?”
    And so on and on….I have been a witness in a number of cases and have seen what can happen when a driver fails to use common sense and apply basic towing skills. Many old-timers may remember my difficult locomotive recovery back in the 1970s during which I forgot the basics, a mistake that taught me a lesson I will never forget. I can still remember every detail of that awful job today! It was ignorance on my part; I just did not know enough to apply the basics correctly.
    The point I am making is that perhaps we often make the mistake of substituting raw power for using our basic skills. Assuming that is the case, a reminder on the basics will not be out of place in an era of amazing rotator and heavy-duty power.

Start Here

    The basic skills you are going to rely on start with your feet, eyes, nose, and ears before you allow yourself to begin the recovery.
    Anyone can tell you that it is a most impressive sight to see a driver get down from his cab and begin his walk-around. It appears that he is building a picture in his head of what is going to happen the moment he starts applying all that power.
    Here are some of the questions you must answer quickly on-site so that a thinking man and a monster machine will merge to become one safe and effective unit — and so that you do not have to answer any questions later in a courtroom!:


  • What is the ground stability for your truck entering and leaving the site?
  • Where will the casualty come back to on its wheels?
  • How many trucks will you need in the soft conditions underfoot?
  • What are the ground conditions at the actual site?
  • Can you see space underneath the trailer or tank?


  • Where are the hook-up points?
  • Where are the strongest parts of the wreck?
  • Can you see fuel leaking or sparks crackling?
  • Is the load safe, or will it run around when you roll it up?
  • Are the soft sides capable of holding the load when it rolls up?
  • Are there power wires nearby?
  • Where will you hook up the required back roll?
  • If you lose the load, can you get a low-loader and hoist to the site?
  • If you need a second truck, is there room?


  • Can you hear any movement noise?
  • What about a power “hum”?
  • Can you hear any crackling noise?
  • Is the load making a noise?
  • How about rivets snapping off like ammunition?


  • Any nasty smells?
  • Gas fumes?
  • Leaking diesel?
  • Electrical burning?


One Unit   

    If you didn’t before, now you know there is much to do before you even open the lockers to start laying out your recovery gear. I assure you that applying these basics can turn you from just another average driver into a combined man-and-truck unit that will not only make the job look easier but save you from having things go wrong and find too late that you should have taken this advice.
    On top of all this, you will find the police will treat you quite differently if they see you working quickly, effectively and with confidence — quite a different picture from having to ask them to stop traffic for the third time while you move your truck for yet another approach.