Equal Partners? Are towers gaining respect as first responders?

Overview

Published: 07/01/2011

by Allan Duffin

Photos

Cpt. Martin, now retired

    “I would like to just encourage you to get and stay involved. What you do is too important not to be recognized, but no one is going to do it for you. You are an industry of hard workers so work hard for your industry.
    “Remember, decisions about the future of private sector towing are being made every day and they will be made with or without you, so I encourage you to get involved and get engaged.”
    — from Cpt. Tom Martin’s address to the TRAA Legislative and Leadership Conference, March 2011

    Tom Martin is well familiar with the intricacies of working an incident scene. He knows the key factors at the heart of traffic incident management: Fast response time, a scene cleared quickly and efficiently, smooth cooperation among responders.
    A retired captain with the Virginia State Police, Martin works on traffic incident management and safety issues for the I-95 Corridor Coalition, an alliance of transportation agencies, toll authorities, and related organizations. Membership covers 16 states along the East Coast, from Maine to Florida — all connected by Interstate 95.
    Martin’s speech at the March TRAA Legislative and Leadership Conference was called “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of The Way: The Future of Private Sector Towing.” In it, he hit many key points with regard to the towing industry’s role in traffic incident management, especially as key responders at incident scenes. He agrees that towing and recovery personnel should be treated as equals among other experts tasked with clearing the roads.
   
Great Strides

    “Over the years I’ve seen great improvement in how the towing and recovery industry is perceived,” said Martin. “Many years ago law enforcement looked at towers as a necessarily evil. There wasn’t much engagement except that the towers showed up at the scene and helped clear the accident.”
    Fortunately, added Martin, the relationship between law enforcement and towing took great strides as towers were asked to participate in training and other programs that helped improve incident management procedures.
    The Corridor Coalition offers workshops dealing with subjects such as quick clearance. “Everyone’s invited,” said Martin. “We just had one of these workshops in Portland, Maine, and one in Connecticut.” Of the 60 attendees, continued Martin, at least 10 people from seven different towing companies were in the audience.
    “It’s so good when we have the towers there,” said Martin, “because they can address their problems. Having them there to discuss their issues goes a long way in helping the other responders understand what’s going on.”

The Coalition

    The I-95 Corridor Coalition has three staff positions: an operations program coordinator; a travel information service coordinator who archives traffic data; and the intermodal coordinator, who deals with truck parking and marine highways. “We tie all modes of transportation together,” explained Martin, “whether it’s rail, water, or ground.”
    The Coalition is funded by the Federal Highway Administration through its annual transportation authorization bill. “We don’t buy anything. We don’t sell anything. We don’t tell anybody what to do or how to do it,” said Martin. “We build consensus.” Martin’s role as the operations program coordinator is to supervise the organization’s efforts with regard to incident management and safety.
    For example: One topic that always pops up at the Coalition’s workshops is the situation with local rotation lists. “You’ll talk to agencies that have rotation lists, and they’ll say the lists are fair,” noted Martin. Sometimes, however, towers don’t feel that way. Martin added that the Coalition tries to help agencies maintain balance in their rotation lists. “We meet with everyone and try to make sure it’s a level playing field.”

Issues Remain

    Martin noted that the towing community’s professionalism has blossomed over the past several decades. “It started with the Towing and Recovery Association of America,” he explained. “They developed the Traffic Incident Management Handbook.” That guide, said Martin, ensured that towers had information about incident management — and that they knew how to respond to various incidents on the road.
    “As [towers] started to engage that concept, in most locations I’ve found that they’re now an equal partner in traffic incident management, scene clearance, and unified command,” said Martin.
    Despite this progress, Martin acknowledged that the attitude is not all-pervasive and there’s still progress to be made. “There are pockets of resistance everywhere,” said Martin, “and problems with law enforcement too. But those problems are smaller than they used to be.”

Look The Part

    What is Martin’s advice for towers who respond to incident scenes?
    “On a broad scale the greatest thing that towers can do is to work on the perception of professionalism,” said Martin. Law enforcement agencies, he explained, consider themselves professional organizations. Most of them wear uniforms, for example, and their vehicles are well identified. The same goes for the fire department and personnel from the department of transportation.
    Like those organizations, said Martin, the towing and recovery industry is a group of professionals and should present itself that way: “It’s important to be image-conscious. When they show up on-scene, they should have some semblance of a uniform. It could be just a company t-shirt and nice slacks.”
    In addition, said Martin, tow vehicles should display a professional image, including a sharp paint job. “We see a lot where it’s not that way,” explained Martin.
    Interpersonal communication is another key part of maintaining a professional image. “It’s important that towers are engaging other responders — not only at-scene but also prior to getting there.”
    To read Cpt. Martin’s speech, go to either of these web sites:
    1. Footnotes’ TowBlog at:  http://trfootnotesnews.blogspot.com/2011/05/from-traas-legislative-leadership-2011.html
    2. Footnotes’ Facebook page at:
     www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150187096547842

    Retired Virginia State Police Capt. Tom Martin joined the I-95 Corridor Coalition staff in December 2008 as its Operations Program Coordinator. He has extensive background in incident management and safety, and managing large public agency programs. Cpt. Martin recently retired from the Virginia State Police after 34 years of service, where he was the Commander of both Patrol Divisions and the Criminal Intelligence Division.
    During his time with the State Police, he participated in a number of major law enforcement missions, including the terrorist attack at the Pentagon. Cpt. Martin was also a multi-agency task force leader deployed to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.
    He has been an invited speaker and served on expert panels at numerous state and national transportation and Homeland Security conferences.

SIDEBAR
Martin’s Role

    Martin’s career with the Virginia State Police spanned an impressive 34 years. He began working with the I-95 Corridor Coalition in 1990, when the organization was formed. The Coalition staff is comprised of volunteers — many of whom are from law enforcement agencies.
    As a state trooper, Martin attended the Coalition’s meetings and events. He eventually segued into a leadership role, handling some of the organization’s efforts in traffic incident management.
    Martin’s predecessor in the operations position was Henry deVries, a captain with the New York State Police, which loaned deVries to the Coalition full-time — a unique move during a time when the Coalition had only part-time volunteers. “Then the budget tightened up. NYSP called Henry back and the position was open,” said Martin.
    “Now the staff positions are funded,” continued Martin, who eventually filled the vacated slot on the Coalition’s staff. “It’s an opportunity to do something different, and it keeps me engaged with the same people I dealt with when I was in law enforcement.”
    Martin has been in the position for more than two years. “I really enjoy it,” he said. “It gives me a good opportunity to look at incident management and safety in this corridor.” Prior to coming on staff at the Coalition, Martin said he primarily dealt with issues within the Commonwealth of Virginia. “Now I can look at things from Maine to Florida and pick out best practices to make things better and safer.”
    “I never leave a conversation with anybody where we don’t stress safety,” said Martin, “safety for all responders — and that includes the towers. The clearance they provide, the equipment they bring, the lighting they bring — I think that towers bring a lot to the table when it comes to making the scene safer.”