ResponderSafety.com Podcast

The Emergency Responder Safety Institute presents the ResponderSafety.com podcast, a closer look at hot topics, new information, innovative approaches, and case studies in responder safety at roadway incidents and in traffic incident management. Listen for practical, actionable information you can implement today at your next roadway incident response to improve safety of emergency response personnel and the public, no matter which agency you work for. Come learn from interviews and special features with experts and leaders in emergency services. All agencies who respond to roadway incidents — fire, EMS, fire police, law enforcement, DOT, safety service patrols, special traffic units, medevac, and towing and recovery — are all welcome and will find value in what we discuss.

2021
Episode 4: Secondary Crashes: Lessons from the NTSB - Our guest on the newest episode of the ResponderSafety.com podcast is Investigator Sheryl Harley of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Office of Highway Safety. Investigator Harley speaks with us about the NTSB’s role in investigating all transportation-related incidents, how they decide which incidents to investigate, and what happens during an investigation.
Episode 3: Rich Marinucci - On Episode 3 of the ResponderSafety.com podcast, Chief Rich Marinucci, Executive Director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA), offers his take on the biggest safety risks to firefighters today, the role of the safety officer at roadway incident responses, why preventable deaths from operations like backing up apparatus are still happening, and the FDSOA’s new Certified Traffic Incident Management Technician credential.
Episode 2: Loveland-Symmes - Today we're going to take a closer look at the emergency services unit of the Loveland-Symmes Ohio Fire Department.
Episode 1: In the Beginning - Steve Austin and Jack Sullivan from the Emergency Responder Safety Institute discuss how the organization and ResponderSafety.com got started and plans for the future. Bob Beamis of the Pennsylvania State Police recounts his experience being struck and injured while working at a roadway incident scene.

Rod Ammon: Welcome to the Respondersafety.com podcast brought to you by the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, a committee of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman's Association. To remain mindful of why we do this work, we start every podcast with an update of emergency responders struck by fatalities. As of September 12th, 2022, 34 emergency responders have been struck and killed while operating at roadway incident scenes. We have information on the loss of these responders and a memorial tribute available at respondersafety.com/fatalityreports. Our thoughts are with the families and their colleagues.

If you know of an incident where a person or an emergency vehicle is struck while operating at a roadway incident, please report it at reportsstruckby.com. This is a new nationwide data collection effort from the Emergency Responder Safety Institute and respondersafety.com. It'll help us better understand how struck by incidents occur so we can determine what training, public education and safety messaging is needed to reduce struck by incidents.

The database accepts reports from all roadway responders, including fire, law enforcement, EMS, fire police, special traffic units, safety service and freeway service patrols, departments of transportation, public works and towing and recovery. The reporting form takes only a minute or two to complete. All fields are optional so you can report as much as you know, and skip what you don't. The site is mobile device responsive for easy reporting from the field or the station. We hope you will check out reportsstruckby.com and make it part of your phone so that if something like this happens, you'll be able to know where to report it. Probably the best thing to do is go up there and bookmark the site. We're going to put a button up there so that it'll become an icon that's on your phone in the event you need it. It's there. Again, that's reportsstruck by.com. On this episode, we're talking about towing and recovery. I'm pleased to welcome two experienced towing industry leaders, Angela Barnett, and Brian Riker. Angela Barnett is the executive director of the Arizona Professional Towing and Recovery Association and the towing liaison for respondersafety.com. Angela's career began with a few tow trucks in Texas. Then she built her own company where she sought out training to help protect herself and her drivers on the roadway. Safety training became her passion. She worked with the American Traffic Safety Services Association to develop one of the early traffic control training programs for responders.

She traveled the country teaching. She's won numerous awards, including Tow Woman of the Year in 2007. Angela is a member of the NFPA 1091 technical committee on traffic control, incident management professional qualifications, and she's on many other committees in the towing industry. She's currently advocating for legislation to create National Move Over Day. Brian Riker is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Towing Association. He's a lobbyist member of the Towing and Recovery Association of America and the business editor for American Towman Media. Mr. Riker is a third generation towing operator and formerly owned a towing company. His company, Fleet Compliance Solutions, is a towing industry consultant to business and associations nationwide. You might recognize his voice as the host of the podcast On the Road with your DOT guy, Brian Riker, and the live weekly DOT compliance show on the Auto Transport Intel YouTube channel. Thank you both for joining us today.

Brian Riker: Thank you, Rod. Happy to be here.

Angela Barnett: Me too.

Rod Ammon: All right. So to make things easier to follow for today's discussion to have a little bit of order, I'm just going to tell you guys to take turns going first when we're answering questions. We can have a discussion. If one of you wants to pass or let the other go first, that's fine. You're both beyond qualified to answer any questions that I have. So Brian, let's start with you first. So we say towing and recovery all the time. Tell us the difference between towing and recovery.

Brian Riker: Excellent question, and this is a common area that gets confused. Towing we equate to your routine, pick a vehicle up and move it somewhere, whether the vehicle is broke down on the shoulder of the highway or sitting in a parking lot or your own driveway. That is a very routine operation, very repeatable. Recovery, as used in our industry, means bringing a vehicle back to the travel portion of the highway so that it either can drive away on its own power, or we can tow it away, cleaning up a cargo spill. Think of a crash or other incident like that. That is recovery in our industry and very different procedures; similar equipment, but a whole different set of risks that are involved in it as well.

Rod Ammon: Appreciate that. I learned something already. Angela, anything you want to add to that?

Angela Barnett: No, I agree with Brian as long ... Again, we face this a lot out in people who aren't in the towing industry. They always want to know what's the difference, so that is a very good question. And I would agree, anything that has to be, that's not just a simple hookup and tow it off the roadway. If it's got to be flipped over or, like you said, brought back to the road, yeah, it's a recovery.

Rod Ammon: Yeah. I got to say, I have seen some pretty exotic things that you guys can do these days. I watch not only a lot of the crashes that you deal with, but even in racing, when I see some of these folks dealing with being able to flip a car over with someone who's already in it and do it all very gently, it's become quite a science. Now let's talk about training because that's a lot of our focus. How are towing and recovery professionals trained and what certifications are available? Angela, you can start.

Angela Barnett: There's several different trainings available out in what we call the towing world. Now, whether it is tow training, where people are teaching you the proper procedures to tow or upright recover a vehicle where that is safely as possible. We have TIM training, so different types, different agencies out there. There are two, I would say probably national ones that are there and available. Some states have actually regulated it that you have to be trained. Most states, however, don't, which is unfortunate. So yes, there are quite a few out there and they're all around the nation to be able to go to it.

Rod Ammon: I love to see that we're moving towards making sure folks are getting training. Brian, something to add?

Brian Riker: Training is critical to our safety and the motoring public safety. And as Angela alluded to, there are several excellent training organizations available to concentrate on the meat and potatoes for the towing industry, including one international organization. We also have training from groups, such as ERSI that has online training for safety. And then there are internal trainings that towing companies provide to their employees to comply with either OSHA or a contract specific requirement. And I too would love to see, as you just expressed, a more commonplace event, similar to certifications that your fire and EMS would have to operate in their environment. I would love to see better emphasis on training for tow operators. So we have uniform procedures across the country.

Right now, a lot of it is left up to the owner of the individual businesses discretion on what is or is not important or their SOPs. So there are some great training entities. There are also some certification only bodies that administer certification exams to help you demonstrate the proficiency in that. And I think we're on the right path to professionalism in the industry by supporting training. And as some people have said, all training is good training. And I do believe that we need to continue to learn in any career discipline. We don't know it all. We need to keep learning and that is very important.

Rod Ammon: Yeah, appreciate you mentioning ERSI, which is the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, better known as Responder Safety Learning Network, which is available from this webpage. I guess I'm wondering what do we do when we're talking about this training? I know it's difficult. We're dealing with a different issue from the public sector, whether it's a policeman or a fireman or a fire person, whatever. What do we do to motivate or capture what's going on out there in the tow industry? A lot of the things that we try to teach in the fire service, there's resistance. How do we change the culture?

Brian Riker: Excellent question, and changing the culture starts from the top down in our companies. The ownership and leadership need to buy into it. And we're starting to see that as we're having this generational shift to the next generation of owner. They understand the value of this. Plus they're a little bit afraid of regulatory agencies that are stepping in. And as we have learned how to work with fellow responders on the highway, law enforcement, fire, EMS, and we've started to garner their respect, that goes a long way to us wanting to step our game up to the next level as true professionals and practice until we have it perfect with training and ongoing continuing education. So short answer, how do we affect that cultural change? We help tow operators understand and recognize the importance of being a true professional and then treat them like that on the highway when we work together with this different disciplines, so that we feel like we're part of the team on the highway.

Rod Ammon: Angela, what are you thinking?

Angela Barnett: I think that I agree with what Brian says. However, the only thing that would be the difference [inaudible 00:10:49] he spoke on that with training. I was teaching a TIM class just the other day and getting the operators to buy into that and understand that on the roadway, we all have a part to play and training is a big part of that. And a lot of them don't feel like that they don't get the respect. And so my speech to them was that, well, it all starts with you. You have to be professional. You need to show up in the proper PPE. You need to show up knowing, speaking the proper language, terminologies, and show that you deserve that respect. They're just not going to give it to you as you won't just give it to them. So I think that we really have to teach our staff to have a little pride within what they do. And I think that along with that, that's going to encourage them to want to be trained more and take more pride in what they're doing out there on the roadway and dealing with other responders. I think that that's huge for our industry. I see a lot of that.

Rod Ammon: Yeah. I love what both of you had to say. It's interesting. We went out to different first responders and people on responderssafety.com, and we asked some questions about what word best represents what you would want to be. And professional comes back as I think was the top response from responders. And yeah, it requires work and discipline, so thank you for that. What are your thoughts on the role of towing and recovery being included in interdisciplinary training? And I guess, how do we better integrate towing and recovery as a private sector entity into a planning process? It seems like it's largely led by public sector.

Angela Barnett: I would say that when I speak to towing companies, mostly owners, that you have to engage these other agencies. You have to go out and shake their hands. You have to have the conversations to say, Hey, we can do this together. And I think that making sure you have a strong bond within your state, with your state association or your state, whatever agency that governs you, building those relationships is key when it comes to getting the things that we need from them and being able to work together. And being able to show them that what our equipment can do, because a lot of the understanding is they don't understand the resources that we have and that we offer. And I think that working together can truly show them that. So a lot of the conversations, again, always go back to what have you done as your part to encourage these relationships? We have to do the work. We have to show them that we deserve to be at the table is what I always tell them. So working together, encouraging that, going out, shaking their hands, meeting them, going to the firehouse and encouraging let's train together, I think is a big part of it.

Rod Ammon: Appreciate that. Brian, any thoughts?

Brian Riker: So in a practical world, how do we start this? Well, we start the way we have for the last 20 years, at least up in my corner of the world. And we provide unclaimed vehicles for rescue training. But instead of just putting that vehicle in the firehouse parking lot and walking away, we build that relationship with the fire chief and the training officer. And we participate and we show them what we can do with our equipment, and that we are competent, knowledgeable operators. I found working with fire departments over the years, that just explaining some of our equipment, what its ratings are and being competent in that goes a long way into opening that door. Then as associations, and Angela and I both lead associations, we work on the committees behind the scenes and we work with other agencies to express the towing point of view so that we're included, we're thought about. And then the best way we do it is we show up on scene as tow operators and we act as competent professionals and we don't over commit to what we can do, only do what we're absolutely sure we know we can do flawlessly. And that will build the confidence in other responders, and then we will start working together more often. And the hard part is, and you nailed this in your opening question, Rod, the hard part is we are generally the only private entity that responds to these events on the public roadway. And so as such, we are a little different than a public entity responding in what we're lawfully allowed to do, the resources we have available. And I hate to say the key word, but we have to look at this in a way we can make a profit. Now that will not stop us as towers from assisting with a life safety rescue event or something like that. But at the end of the day, nobody else is covering our cost and our equipment. So that makes a unique challenge for us in training resources and devoting time to working with other agencies. But as an industry, we are willing, able, and eager to join in.

Rod Ammon: That's a really good point about funding, the difference between, because we often talk about the way a small company is run versus something else. But when it comes down to the core of profit and the fact that you got to make money or you can't do it, it's a good point. Angela, I'm thinking about it, and Brian, you can kick in on this as well, but I'm thinking about giving the audience three tactical moves that a tow owner or a tow person or part of a team can make to motivate training, some daily examples or something where ... Or maybe it's a story where you can say ... I mean, we could tell them all the time people are dying out there, but a lot of people, it just doesn't make it. I mean, could you guys give some examples of what was done to motivate the training and maybe best case scenario where somebody you were able to capture their appreciation?

Angela Barnett: I think that for me, when my staff that worked at my towing company, that it was about, as Brian said earlier in one of the answers, that it does start with the owner. And I think that for us and for me, it was telling a story and making sure that they understood, making them feel apart. You have operators that what I call lifers, who love what they do. This is a career for them. They eat, sleep and breathe towing and love everything about it. And those are the ones that really want to do every level of training they can. They want to encourage others to do that. And you have to find those people in your staff and get them to help motivate the other ones to want to do better or to share that training and offer that for them. Safety training in your own office is huge. So I think that one of the things when we're talking about motivating is just showing them actually what may be just free training. Going to ERSI and doing those 20 minute modules is something that they can do to start off. It doesn't take long and it's cost effective for them in any business, and they can get some of that training. And then that might encourage them to do more and more and more. And I think for me, I'm just like a sponge. I get it all, so I want everybody else to be like that. I want everybody to want to get that training. And so if you encourage that, then that's what contagious. So for me, that's probably one of the key things is it's got to start in your backyard first.

Rod Ammon: Yeah. I love it. I mean, the concept of setting a good example and peer support and all kinds of other things, they seem to be all good things.

Brian Riker: Can I add something, Rod?

Rod Ammon: Please do.

Brian Riker: The three simplest points I have found in the 30 years I've been doing this is lead by example, make training fun and inclusive because not everybody learns the same way or at the same level. So we don't want to exclude somebody that's not picking it up fast or single them out. It has to be fun and entertaining, nobody wants a boring four hour PowerPoint. Unfortunately, they're necessary sometimes, but we can make it fun and entertaining. And for those of us that are running a business, we have to think about it the same way that career departments do. You need to pay your employees to be there. This training is going to make them a better operator, which is important to your towing company. And it's going to return exponentially in reduced damage claims, reduced injury and a greater public perception of professionalism.

So training on your employee's day off, where they're expected to participate for free and stuff like that, that just doesn't cut it with me. And I'm going to have a lot of owners that are going to send me some hate mail over that, but we need to include it as part of what we do. When you're working at a restaurant or an assembly plant, you're on the job training is you're clocked in for it. Why should our industry be any different, really?

Rod Ammon: Both excellent points. And one thing I just want to clarify, we keep saying ERSI, and I don't think a lot of people know what that is. So on the Responder Safety Learning Network or at respondersafety.com, those modules are available. And the other thing people could do is get a TIM certificate, the traffic incident management certificate that is supported and backed by Federal Highway. So it's a nice thing to be able to do on a national level.

Let's go to the scene and put ourselves there and then think about what makes for good relationships between towing and recovery and other emergency responder organizations. What does it look like when it's done right, and what would your message be to the others that are out there?

Brian Riker: I'm going to say what it looks like is a seamless interaction. The tow operator responds to the scene, parks their equipment out of the way, they find the incident commander. Well, it starts with them understanding the unified command structure or whatever your region is deploying. They find the person in charge, they announce their arrival, and then they ask for some direction. Do you need help with anything? Can I start assessing the scene or do you just need me to step back and out of the away until you're done with what you're doing?

It starts with showing respect to everybody on scene. Don't just drive through the middle of the scene with your truck and park like you're ready to hook up to the vehicle unless you've already been instructed to do that upon response, and then professional communication. We have available to us in the towing industry communication headsets that make a huge difference, so we're not shouting and screaming and running around like a chicken with or head cut off; calm, collected behavior in appropriate uniforms that can identify our task and purpose. And just following whatever your area's SOPs are for being on a scene goes a long way. We're not here as tow operators to rewrite the book. We're here to do our part of this well-oiled plan, this well-oiled machine.

Rod Ammon: Angela?

Angela Barnett: I would agree with that. I would say that, again, how you enter the scene and how you engage with the other responders. Because we're so used to working with them, there might be those personal relationships already built. So you may have that and they may have the understanding that they know that we do know how to do our job. It's the people. And it's very sad to say, and we all have these in our agencies that show up and are slouchily dressed and get out and light a cigarette or don't have the PPE on. And that's unfortunate because again, it comes back to that professionalism and that's not the image that we want to project. So I do agree with what Brian said about ... it's how we arrive, how we interact. All of that is very key to the respect that we were talking about earlier.

Rod Ammon: So each of you give me an example of what you would like to hear, or let me put this a better away, what message you have to other responders. What words from towers could you share to other responders to help things?

Angela Barnett: I would say that we have earned a right at the table and I speak this often to the agencies that I deal with, that we can bring a lot and please don't discount us and consider us less than just because we are the public private sector of this equation, because if the federal government and other agencies recognize us, then the boots on the street need to as well. Again, that goes back to the respect, but that's the one thing that ... give us a chance, have a conversation. Don't just assume because we are showing up in a tow truck that we are not educated and we are not trained and we don't deserve to be there. That would probably be one of my biggest things I would tell them. I do tell them.

Rod Ammon: Brian?

Brian Riker: I would say that we are open to discussion. We are open to working with our fellow responders, and we are open to learning. Please think about including us when you have training events, not just cutting cars up and moving cars. When you're having a class on the incident management command system, or you're having a class on temporary traffic control, invite us to the room. We would love to come down and learn how you do it from your side of the table so that we can figure out exactly where we fit in. And if you're having some trouble with tow operations in your area, the first step is to reach out to the owner of that company and try to work towards a resolution instead of just immediately going to law enforcement and complaining about their choice of rotation tow, so come to us.

Most of us are open, reasonable people that truly want to serve. We're in this industry, because we have servant hearts, and just like every other responder out there, we want to serve the public. So come to us, point out good, bad, and the indifferent and teach us how we can fit into your situation and work better with you. We are experts in our field, on our equipment, but we are not life safety and rescue experts normally. And there, we could use some instruction as to where we can do good and not do harm. A lot of times we might accidentally get in the way just because we don't know any better yet. And that's because we haven't been involved in until recently, a lot of the training events that happen, so just work with us. We're an industry that is eager to learn and eager to help in any way we can.

Rod Ammon: Great points from both of you. Thank you. So we're still out on the scene or maybe not, maybe that'll be part of the answer. There's a lot of different types of equipment that you guys get involved in and it's dependent upon your response. How do we make sure the right towing and recovery equipment response from the start to avoid lengthy delays?

Brian Riker: Great question. And that begins with clear communication between the com center or whoever is dispatching the incident to the tower and the field personnel, because there is a big difference between a Toyota Prius and an F350 pickup truck and a Freightliner Cascadia tractor trailer. And I can't tell you how many times I've been dispatched for, it's a truck wreck, bring the big stuff, and it's a pickup truck. So there is a vehicle response guide published by the Towing and Recovery Association of America that is made available for free to anybody that requests it. And it's a one page card that shows representative pictures of different vehicles and gives you some pointers based on information readily accessible, such as tire size or the gross vehicle weight rating placard inside the driver's door on a vehicle that can help us as towers understand what size it is. But this is also the year 2022 and we have these little things called cell phone cameras. A couple of quick pictures of the scene, especially when it's something complicated or complex, that are texted to the dispatcher at the towing company can go a long way in helping the tow operator assess what they're going to need, because like you said, lengthy delays are a problem. And if we don't get there quickly, the traffic queue is going to back up and then we're not going to have the ability to get that equipment, which is one of the reasons why a lot of tow companies on large crashes will roll everything they have, even though they may not need it. They send some of it back as soon as it's realized it's not necessary just so we can get there before the highway gets shut down or impassable with the traffic queue. So the simplest way is a couple of quick pictures and an accurate description of the exact vehicle. Not just it's a car or a truck, especially in today's day and age with alternative fuel vehicles, electric vehicles, and such. That can drastically change how and what we respond with.

Rod Ammon: I'm interested, and Angela, I want to hear your response, but I'm interested in this picture idea, because I like to get this stuff and boil it down to a stressful crash response. And now I'm thinking about, okay, a firefighter or a law enforcement officer, somebody on the scene snaps a couple pictures and we have a dispatcher, I'm guessing, that's in this play. Can they get a picture? And are there things maybe we should be doing to make that easier?

Brian Riker: I believe they can. A lot of law enforcement officers I work with have methods of taking pictures and sending them back to their dispatchers where they take pictures for records. And most towing companies, we have cell phones, owners have them, drivers have them. A lot of companies are even using cell phones as their primary dispatch phone line. So this would require some pre-planning among the emergency agencies to have a number that they can text a picture to. But even in a hurry it's something that an officer on scene could probably be given the tow company manager or their lead driver's cell phone and send him a picture or two in a matter of a minute or two.

I've done this in the past where crashes are near a fixed traffic cam and that's a resource we use in the towing industry, is we look at the 511 system or whatever it is in your state, and we look at the fixed traffic cams. And I've had a couple incidents in my area where I can clearly see what it is just by looking at the traffic cam that the DOT maintains. And it's nothing like what the county center described to me when they dispatched me. And so this is a great first response tool, not just for towing, but for anybody. Your first boots on the ground can send that picture to the next person up the food chain and help improve response drastically. And it really is as simple as just having a good relationship. I have my lieutenant's and my chief's personal cell phone and we could exchange pictures back and forth and it really helped.

Rod Ammon: Yeah. The only thing I want to add to that is I just want to make sure people are thinking about getting somebody spotting them or being in a safe place when they take the picture.

Brian Riker: Absolutely.

Rod Ammon: Angela, what are you thinking about how we get the right equipment out there in a timely fashion?

Angela Barnett: What I tell everyone in all of my trainings, and again, working with the agencies in my different states is that please, please don't tell me what to bring, tell me what you have on scene. So it's just basically everything Brian said by just a little shorter sentence, that literally don't tell me to just tell the dispatcher, tell him to send a rollback, because that may not be what ... I wouldn't tell you which fire truck to bring or which gun to use. So please don't tell me as the professional that I am to do that with the equipment. And a great resource, as Brian mentioned is, and I tell all of them because a lot of operators aren't aware of this, that they can use the DOT cameras if they can't really get seen or their dispatch center can, so they can actually get back in there. I agree with the cell phones and the pictures. We've talked a lot about that here and integrating into that use with our department of public safety here in Arizona. The key with that is there are some individuals that don't want to share their cell phone number with operators or things like that. So therefore, it does create ... So we have talked about having one center phone line that they could send pictures to and then dispatch could send it out.

So I think we'll see a lot more of that because again, if you've built those personal relationships with the agencies that you work with often, then they aren't going to mind sending those pictures to you. A lot of them are done that way, but there are some that won't. So we still have a little bit to go on that, but I think those are great things. But again, biggest thing to me, just tell me what you have on scene. Tell me the type of vehicle and the situation that it's in, so that way I know if I'm going to have to just tow it or if I'm going to have to recover it or recover and tow it, vice versa.

Rod Ammon: Yeah. Wow, good points, and I love the detail of that. Yeah, working that out in advance sounds like the way to go. Professionalism, trust relationships, all really strong messages there, and thanks for the details on that. Some of the public sector response agencies like the fire service are operating under the national emergency management system and using instant command or unifying command structure. How do we integrate towing and recovery personnel into NIMS and ICS? Or maybe you've seen this working well at some responses and give us some insight into when it worked. Why don't you tell us what you're thinking, Angela?

Angela Barnett: I think that, again, it goes back to everything we've been saying this whole time. It comes back to the professionalism and the agencies that you work with. We're not talking about a company that's just started with an agency and working with a fire department. These are companies that are well known and that have been on, whether it's a rotation or a single bit. It doesn't matter the capacity that they're there in. If they have those relationships already built, then I think that's going to be key because ... and again, the training, a lot of the traffic incident management training is mandatory with your contracts, that you have to have that. So they would have a general understanding of what the command system is and how it pertains to us.

And I explain it in my teachings that it's like whoever is most needed at the time when it's yours. Whether it's an officer doing an investigation, whether it's a fireman putting a fire out, or whether that's us, then that scene basically is ours generally at the time, because that's our expertise, that's our field, and that working together and having that one person that we can go to and being included in those conversations. So it's like everything that we've talked about wrapped up into one with a big old bow on it for me, when it's trying to make us understand that. But again, it comes back to the towing companies have to educate their staff that this is important. And you need to know this because this is where and where we've been for a long time, that we have to understand these things are important and it just makes us a better person and a better operator out there on the scene.

Rod Ammon: Brian, what are you thinking?

Brian Riker: This is where for the towing industry, association membership is important because when we have professional, like-minded towers that join together in association, and then we have people like myself and Angela and others that work with the state and national level associations that get invited to the table at these events to talk high level, we get buy in. In my home state to come off Pennsylvania, we have an excellent program called Penn TIME, which is the Pennsylvania Traffic Incident and Management Enhancement program. And our tagline is one vision, one voice, all together. And it has state department of transportation, Pennsylvania turnpike, fire, EMS, towers, every discipline that has to work together on a highway incident that affects traffic in the general public and safety for roadway users, as well as pedestrian workers. And towing is actively involved in this. We have regular meetings where tow business owners, as well as myself as the executive director, an independent consultant to the towing industry and the Pennsylvania turnpike's towing manager all get together. And we discuss in the same room with patrol leaders from Pennsylvania state police, local law enforcement, local fire, state fire. We have these discussions and then it doesn't just end there. We actually put it into practice, and I'm sure a lot of states have a similar program. And here we are fortunate as well to have a very good working relationship with our neighboring state, just across the Delaware river, New Jersey, who has a similar organization. And we work together and New Jersey folks come to our meetings, we go to their meetings.

And that makes a huge difference when the voice of the towing industry is expressed equally alongside all other responders at the planning level, so that when it trickles down to the field, it's already part of the culture. And so if you're not already involved in that and you are in any of the disciplines, I suggest that you look into that in your state and see what's available so that we can all start to work together.

Rod Ammon: Great. Thank you. So we're out at the scene. I'd like to go back there and sometimes as you say, it's very simple, it's a tow. You're just going to go pick up a vehicle and take it somewhere. And other times I can imagine, and I've only seen it a couple times, but it's Bedlam. There's traffic pressure, there's traffic passing, there's all kinds of crazy stuff going on. And it's hard when I hear about how people block traffic and that kind of thing. How can public sector agencies better protect towing and recovery personnel?

Brian Riker: Another great question there, Rod, because tows, unfortunately, in most states are the only responder on scene that has a duty to provide a safe work environment, but doesn't always have the legal ability to provide that safe work environment for their operators. We're working on a project in Pennsylvania right now to include the state laws, to show what we can or more likely what we cannot legally do as tow operators into our traffic incident management training that is presented to all responders. And this is important for the other disciplines to understand is that tow operators can't just set a line of cones up and shut a lane down in most states without either direct expressed permission or certain other obligations to be met. So we rely heavily as an industry on the help and support of the other responders that are there to help with traffic safety. And that starts with telling us when we're about to do something stupid, because not every tower has TIMS training, they don't understand what is normal, and having resources available to help with that temporary traffic control as needed. So, that's my thoughts on it. I'm sure Angela has a lot more to add to that, because this is one of your areas of expertise.

Angela Barnett: Again, the relationships are key, having the tower understand, as Brian said, what they can and cannot do. Having served as an expert witness, I see this a tremendous amount in roadway out there and other towers coming to block or protect another towing company. And although I think it's great, it's not something they should be doing. They need to rely on the resources that are out there like safety service patrols. Most states have them, maybe not in the rural areas as much, but in Metro areas, I know that they're there, law enforcement. They need to know to be able to call them, but they also need to understand the whole traffic incident management process. I believe that every state agency or just regular municipality needs to put that training in their contracts. I think that that would be huge for our industry. And I think that just goes back to part of protecting us out there on the roadway. We do get left an enormous amount and that's the bad part because then we are forced to have to protect ourselves. Both what we're required by law to do, but we may have to take some extra precautions. One of the biggest things is the way we park our vehicles, that's huge. And in a class the other day, I just had this discussion, making them understand that one wrong turn and a little bit of your bed sticking out in the roadway can be deathly. So I think that we just have to have those conversations within our own agencies. We have to share those conversations with other agencies and to make sure that we all have a clear understanding to know what resources are actually available for tower when they're out there. That to me is huge that they understand that they're ... right now because we are public private and there are limitations to us that we have to understand that and we have to know what resources are out there, so that's huge.

Rod Ammon: Angela, I want to follow up on that because I drive a lot and I've seen some situations that truly scare me for towers, because I've seen them very many, many times alone. It's almost as scary as watching somebody try to change a tire on the side of the road. These specific images come to mind. And I think it's important that we give license to these people, this audience of yours. And I want to be very specific with both of you guys. So I'm a tower, I'm on the road. People are going by me, 75, 80 miles an hour, I got a job to do. You said call. Do they call the fire department? Do they call the police department? Do they call their dispatch? Let's give them something specific that you recommend.

Angela Barnett: I would say call and say that you are not in a safe location. If they want to call their dispatch and tell them to call the safety service patrol or the state agency or DOT, then that's what I would recommend. And I would recommend that they get all their equipment out and get ready and do what they can from the opposite side of the vehicle, and as much as they can until somebody else gets there. That would be one of the first things I would say.

Protection is key. Towers are very complacent and we think because we've been doing this forever, that nobody's going to hit us. And if we put our vest on that nobody is going to hit us. And if we have our flashy lights on, that we're not going to get hit. That's wrong and we have to understand that, but we've done this for so long, a certain way, and we have to change that mindset. And so they have to understand that calling for help can save their life. And whether it's somebody and if all else fails, calling and can't get somebody out there and you're in a time crunch, call one of your other operators where they can actually get back there in a safe distance, in a safe parking location, away with their lights on to hopefully give some advanced warning that you guys are ahead and can help out in a situation like that. So that would be one of the key things that I do tell operators now.

And this is the reason why I started teaching in 2007, because this very incident happened to me out there on the roadway, hooking up a car. And I thought I have to do something to help my guys understand and to protect them. And that's where the training began, so all of those things are key.

Brian Riker: Well said, Angela, and you did, you mentioned two excellent resources, a safety service patrol if you have them in your area, and local or state law enforcement. I am fortunate. I had a very good working relationship with state and local police the years that I operated my company and they would come provide when available a patrol car to sit back and deflect traffic, because there's all sorts of studies on lighting colors. And I know that there have been some published recently, but a lot of people react differently when they believe there's law enforcement presence on scene. It's not a guarantee of safety, but it does help.

So to our law enforcement audience listening to this, if you have the time and availability, a tow operator is not going to be upset if you pull up safely behind them and provide some cover with your lights and your cruiser presence. We will be very thankful and grateful. It does make a big difference.

Rod Ammon: Yeah, that would be, I can imagine a very helpful if not a blanket, just a nice addition. I just had something popped into my mind just because it was discussed the other day when I was having some conversations with fire service, and it relates to HASS Alert, electronic advanced warning. Has this gotten into the towing industry?

Brian Riker: Yes.

Angela Barnett: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Rod Ammon: Well, I'd love to hear you both yell, and I'll tell you something, and this drove CR one of the guys from HAAS crazy, because I said, I drive with waze all the time and I haven't got signaled yet. So you're here, you're seeing it.

Angela Barnett: No, absolutely, it works. They have really stepped up. I remember having conversations when they were first entering the market and sitting down with the owner and discussing how he can go about and get better into the towing industry. And I gave him a lot of different resources for him and it's great to see their sales team. And they are so involved in so much of our world now at our shows, at all of our events that we have, and they're acute supporters. And we see it everywhere now. I mean, everywhere on social media, it's popping up in ... and no matter the discipline, it is out there and it is fantastic. Anything we can do, it's just another tool in the safety toolbox and I'm very proud to be a partner with HAAS Alert. Yes.

Rod Ammon: Nice to hear.

Brian Riker: Oh, yes. I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Tom Parbs from HAAS Alert two weeks ago at the Indiana Towing Association's show where we were speaking about the loss of life on our roadway and what can be done about it. And he has taken this very personally, did the mission to save a tow operator's life, and they have a campaign, No More Names on the Wall. We have a memorial in Chattanooga, Tennessee, The Wall of the Fallen, where unfortunately there's way too many names on that wall from tow operators that have lost their life in the line of duty.

And HAAS Alert has attempted to integrate with OEM manufacturers of towing equipment like they do with fire apparatus. And I don't know where they're at with that project, but there are several tows using it. In my home state, the Pennsylvania turnpike commission has installed it on all their vehicles. And since they've installed it, they have not had a struck by incident yet from a vehicle using the HAAS alert. It is available. There is a towing equipment distributor in Arizona that installs it in every new truck they build, and they pay for the first year of service for their customers.

And their general sales manager has taken this very seriously, serious enough that they put their money where their mouth is and provide this service for free for a year for their customers that buy a new tow truck. And I challenge other distributors and the OEM manufacturers to install this on their vehicle so that it comes out of the factory with lifesaving equipment already there. And it just needs to be activated because this isn't even a new concept. They've used this in Germany, on the Autobahn, for at least two decades. And now that HAAS is integrating with Stellantis, which is Chrysler products, it will go to more than just certain map users. And eventually I'm hoping that NIST makes it a requirement that all new vehicles be able to receive a similar signal for advanced warning, early electronic advanced warning for hazards on the roadway. It's a great concept. It's well overdue or past due here in the north America market.

Rod Ammon: Well, you guys told me exactly what I wanted to hear because I've been rooting for them over at HAAS from the beginning. I felt frustrated when my anecdotal experience was brought up, which probably wasn't very helpful, but all I hear are success stories and statistics of alerts. And HAAS provides a lot of that, so you can see actually what has been sent out over ways and the responses to it. So very much appreciate that feedback. And I really wasn't trying to pitch for HAAS. It's just the name that comes to mind when it comes to an electronic advanced warning, and I just love to see it. So let's wrap up. I'm thinking about hearing from each of you, what you think the biggest issues facing towing and recovery are in the context of roadway instant response, and what first steps you'd like to see.

Brian Riker: Probably the biggest issue that I see from a tow operator's point of view is a false sense of security that it's not going to happen to me because it hasn't happened to me or my company yet, combined with an overuse or improper use of emergency warning lights. There's a big push nationwide to allow tow trucks to have colors other than amber. And I don't think that is going to have the desired effect that we want, especially considering that we have misuse of amber warning lights on tow trucks already that runs rampant in our industry. So we think more is better where in fact less is more in most cases for lighting and improper use of personal protective equipment.

But perhaps the largest problem is distracted driving and, no move over, slow down law, no amount of advanced electronic warning, no amount of warning lights. Nothing but a physical barrier between us and the motoring public is going to protect us from distracted drivers. So in some parts, we're our own worst enemy because we're still not exercising proper discipline on the side of the highway. Carriers have had dual side controls for the last 20 years on every manufacturer, and I still see many tow operators standing in a line of traffic when they don't need to. Wireless remote controls are available at a small upcharge on every piece of equipment on the road where you could then stand anywhere that's safe. Yet we still do things the old fashioned way. So our industry's resistance to change is part of the problem. And I don't know what to do about that other than outreach campaigns, education campaigns. And that's why I've devoted this portion of my career to education and journalism for the industry.

Rod Ammon: Well, I don't think it's unique to towers to have difficulty changing culture. I think we're all resistant to change or many of us. So Angela, what's your biggest issue you think we need to deal with? Or maybe the same? I don't know.

Angela Barnett: I think that communication is a huge problem. I think that complacency, and that goes back to what Brian said, complacency and that we have to change with the times. And no one likes to in any discipline, but we have to. And a good sign of that is the technology of HAAS alert. And that goes to the technology of EVs and hybrid vehicles. In my involvement in all of the different committees now in that area, I find no one has a good understanding knowledge of what is coming and what is expected. And I think towers go out there with the idea that they can tow these vehicles just like they did before. So I think education is key. So communication, education and stop complacency, those are huge issues that we do face. And we have to figure out how to get around that. We have to figure out how to do better everywhere in our industry, as far as that goes.

Rod Ammon: Thanks for that. Yeah. The electric vehicle and hybrid vehicle issue seems to be heating up is really corny, but I'm hearing a lot of messages and I'm also hearing from the experts that I rely on and we rely on for some of the productions that there's conflicting information out there coming from high level. I should say that responder safety and Responder Safety Learning Network are going to be doing work on this. The concepts and some of the process has already begun. So we understand that and I'm glad you mentioned that, Angela.

I am grateful, so grateful to both of you. I think this has been important. I've been dealing with all the different disciplines for a long time and I never got an opportunity to speak to people who were tied to towing. So this is just a great thing and I think it's putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to some of the things that we've discussed in responder safety and all of our meetings related to traffic incident management and whatnot. Anything else either one of you would like to add before we close?

Angela Barnett: Just thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to share our industry and some of the issues that we face out there on the roadway in dealing with other disciplines. I think it's important that everyone understand that, that we are an industry that wants to do better. So thank you for that opportunity.

Brian Riker: Yes, I second that. Thank you for having us here, Rod. Very happy to be here on this program. And I want to extend an open invitation to the audience to feel free and to reach out and contact myself if you have any questions. I'm happy to work with any discipline for any problem related to towing or towing relationships, or even if you just want to talk more about towing. I live and breathe this as a third generation towing owner and operator. I've been out there on the side of the road more than I want to admit, and I've even been a volunteer firefighter for many, many years. So I welcome a conversation anytime and I'm happy to contribute in any way I can.

Rod Ammon: Well, we're grateful for both of your contributions. And Brian, I'm going to give you one chance to put a pitch out there for your podcast and YouTube channel.

Brian Riker: All right. Well thank you, Rod. I appreciate that. I have a podcast, On the Road With Your DOT Guy, Brian Riker. It is boring in title, but we cover important regulatory compliance information for the towing and the general motor carrier industry. And the YouTube channel focuses more on auto transport and the hot shop market, so the pick up truck and trailer crowd. But I answer live questions regarding safety, compliance, interaction with law enforcement and motor carrier enforcement in a positive light. And I'm always looking for suggested topics, happy to talk to people that have a different point of view, and it is found anywhere that podcasts can be found. We're on all platforms or yourdotguy.com. And there's a direct link to subscribe or listen to the episodes, and thank you for that chance.

Rod Ammon: Thanks a lot, Brian. Angela Barnett, Brian Riker, you guys are all stars today, so thank you very much. I hope you'll be safe out there and all of your people will, and I hope we can get this out and share it as much as possible soon. Thanks again. It's hard to hang up with you.

Angela Barnett: Thank you.

Rod Ammon: Be well.

Brian Riker: Looking forward to it. Thank you

Rod Ammon: Now for the news from respondersafety.com. Respondersafety.com has released two new responder safety learning network modules, Wildland Fires and Traffic Management spotlights the struck by vehicle hazard at wildland fire responses and offers guidance in how to mitigate this hazard in many contexts. The module examines contributing factors in previous struck by vehicle fatalities at wildland fires as described by the NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program, and relates them to a set of recommended practices to address these contributing factors and mitigates struck by hazards. The Safety Officer's Role in Roadway Incident Response prepares safety officers to integrate responder safety and traffic incident management practices into their department's training and incident response. The module explains how to be an advocate for compliance with safety standards, participate in writing SOPs/SOGs on responder safety practices, teach these recommended practices and ensure they are implemented at roadway incident response scenes.

There's much more in the module than that, so we hope you'll review it as soon as you can. Even if you aren't a safety officer, you'll learn things in the module that will improve your safety at roadway incidents. These modules are available now at rsln.org, or you can click on the link right off respondersafety.com's page, right on the front.

We've made a lot of progress and updates on respondersafety.com since our last podcast, including new PSAs that are now released called In Our Boots, a struck by a survivor stories video, the announcement of new developments in a national standard for a helmet design for roadway incident response hazards, and a train the trainer webinar in partnership with ndd.org to teach you how to give effective distracted driving presentations to the public. We hope you'll check out respondersafety.com today to see all the new content to help you be safer on the roadway. You'll find links to specific items mentioned here on this podcast page on respondersafety.com. This podcast, respondersafety.com, and the Responder Safety Learning Network are made possible by funding from a fire prevention and safety grant from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program administered by FEMA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. We appreciate your support and remember to share these podcasts with your colleagues to spread the word about safety practices at roadway incidents scenes. Thanks for joining us today on the podcast. Stay safe, everybody. We'll see you next time for respondersafety.com. I'm Rod Ammon.