The exercises focused on familiarizing first responders with the heavy towing vehicles and procedures needed to move vehicles such as tractor trailers or cement trucks. WreckMaster, a private company that provides national towing and wrecking certification, provided the training. The classes were split between classroom instruction and practical, hands-on lessons involving staged accidents.
The Martin family provided a classroom on site and set up the wrecks, which included a trailer dropped on top of a car, a concrete truck on top of another car and a tractor trailer overturned onto a car next to a concrete barrier. The Martins provided the materials, facilities and meals at no charge.
It was all necessary, Matt Martin said, because there is no state or federal certification process for tow or wrecker services.
“The emergency medial technicians, the fire departments, the police, everybody that’s on a wreck scene is required to have training, with the exception of the wrecker industry. The wrecker industry requires no training at all,” he said. “Now the elite towers, I guess you would say, the people that really care about the industry, we require every one of our guys to be WreckMaster certified. ... The WreckMaster [course] is the only — they’re the only — towing company that offers classroom and hands-on training.”
Such training, and cooperation between towing services and first responders, has become more important in recent years as the state attempts to reduce the amount of time needed to clear highways after wrecks. Atlanta has implemented the Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Task Force that is dedicated to finding ways to reopen roads quickly and safely after a wreck.
One of TIME’s programs is the Towing and Recovery Incentive Program, which is specifically designed to improve how large, commercial wrecks are handled.
John Weaver, the WreckMaster instructor, said there was an ongoing effort to extend the TRIP program up Interstate 75 from Bartow County to the Tennessee state line in an effort to further reduce traffic congestion caused by wrecks.
Clearing those wrecks effectively requires working with local towing operators, said Sandy Springs Fire Rescue Department Crew Chief Danny Thompson.
“Our goal today and tomorrow is for the fire [departments] and towing [companies] to become very comfortable together with one another as a resource,” he said. “The job here today is for you guys to be able to see what these rotators and these wreckers and towing services can do, the benefits that they bring to the table, for you to get warm and fuzzy with them. ...
“Again, the thing that we want you guys to take away from here is on the fire side and on the towing side. We want towing to know what it is we’re trying to achieve as rescue ... the other thing is we need to know on the fire rescue aspect what they can do for us. You need to be comfortable with what they can do.”
First responders from Cobb County, Dalton, Marietta, Woodstock, Rockdale, LaFayette, Clayton County and the Highway Emergency Response Operators were on hand for the training. Exercises included using a large, 50-ton wrecker from Marietta Wrecker to lift a trailer, cement mixer and overturned tractor trailer off three different cars.
The first responders gained practice in building wooden trivets and support structures to stabilize the commercial vehicles so the cars could be removed. Weaver was on hand to provide instruction on where the wreckers would be placed on the highway, what type of damage is particular to wrecked commercial vehicles and the necessary safety precautions in lifting and towing those vehicles.
The various departments also took turns using hydraulic- and battery-powered tools to cut the vehicles apart and rescue the victims. During the second day, a vehicle was wedged under a trailer and had to be cut apart while it was still trapped. The responders went in through the vehicle’s roof after cutting it on three sides and wedging it open.
Rodney Martin said all the training was important for first responders and towing companies, as the two need to work effectively “as a team” for the benefit of responders and businesses.
Weaver also said it was important for the two groups to work together, but he emphasized the importance of training and certification from a business standpoint.
“If you get trained and certified and the states start recognizing it and they start using those companies that are trained, first off, it allows the smaller businesses, because of that, to invest in more equipment and training to compete with [the large fleets] and, at the same time, the big companies can continue to do what they do. The competition becomes good competition.”
That process has been used by Martin’s Wrecker Service. Matt Martin said his company has worked with WreckMaster since 2009 and he trains every new employee at his facility so they are able to tow anything from a family sedan to a wrecked tractor trailer. The training has allowed the company to expand and recently purchase a new 60-ton wrecker that Rodney Martin said was the largest in the area.
The Martins also are planning to host additional training sessions for towing companies in the coming months. The next class is scheduled for the first week in October.