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Some tow-truck operators say they aren’t getting the respect they should as first-responders 0

Cheryl Browne

By Cheryl Browne, Barrie Examiner

Greg Graves, of Graves Towing, would welcome for more stringent background checks on people working in his profession. He believes checks would ensure customers would feel more comfortable. J.T. MCVEIGH BARRIE EXAMINER

Greg Graves, of Graves Towing, would welcome for more stringent background checks on people working in his profession. He believes checks would ensure customers would feel more comfortable. J.T. MCVEIGH BARRIE EXAMINER

INNISFIL - 

When Jeff Bloem pulled over to help a stranded motorist, he never thought he’d be the one entering the ambulance.

Bloem, 45, of JEB Towing in Innisfil, said he was standing at the back of his flatbed, lifting a car that had broken down on the 20th Sideroad last Wednesday, when a passing grey sport-utility vehicle struck him.

“I thought I was dead,” Bloem said Monday from his home in Innisfil.

“That person hit me at full speed with no brakes.”

Bloem said when he realized the approaching SUV — which was coming northbound from behind him — was going to hit him, he jumped straight up in the air.

The truck dragged him along the entire length of the driver’s side of his tow truck. Near the driver’s door, he fell back onto the hood and outside passenger mirror of the SUV.

“Plastic just exploded everywhere. I didn’t land on the road, I was pinned up against my truck. I was in so much pain, I thought my left leg was gone," he said.

Bloem said the SUV drove away and he found himself on his knees, crawling around in the minus-20 degree Celsius weather.

He crawled to the passenger side of his tow truck and screamed at the driver of the initial breakdown who was warming up inside the tow truck to call 911.

A neighbour near the 3rd Line had heard the crash, so he and his daughter came with blankets to help.

Officers, paramedics and firefighters arrived, as well as other tow-truck drivers, to support one of their own.

“These are my competitors who stood outside with my truck that night, they’re the ones calling to make sure I’m OK today,” he said.

Nearly a week later, he’s bruised and battered but back at home with his wife and two children. Bloem said he’s grateful he survived with both legs intact and no broken bones.

On Friday, the South Simcoe police arrested a 42-year-old Innisfil woman. She has been charged with dangerous driving and failing to remain at the scene of a crash.

The fact remains, however, that while there’s been a major overhaul of the towing industry in the past few years, the operators themselves aren’t necessarily reaping the rewards.

“The problem with us is, we’re not getting the respect we should be,” said Brian Booth, of Big Brian & Son’s Towing in Innisfil. “At the end of the day, we’re not recognized as first-responders. We’re usually the first responders on the scene and drivers won’t even move over for us.”

Perhaps drivers are remembering the vultures who roamed the roads in Simcoe County half-a-dozen years ago, when, as Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes put it, they were charging “exorbitant fees.”

Hughes said he’d heard from residents who were charged $800 to have their vehicles towed a few hundred metres, and those whose cars were impounded and brought to Newmarket and handed a $3,400 tab.

Hughes said they updated their rates in 2011 and the jockeying for clients has calmed down quite a bit.

Collision tow rates in Oro-Medonte now are $350 for a tow with an additional $150 for off-road recovery. Tow-truck companies can charge alternative rates for tows that don’t result from a collision, he said.

In Barrie, Deputy Fire Chief Rick Monkman agreed that a few years ago they had complaints about extremely aggressive tow-truck drivers.

“They’d be blocking the access, getting in the way. We’d be doing an extrication or checking for leaks, they’d be hooking up the wheels,” Monkman said.

But Monkman said his firefighters aren’t reporting half the complaints they were previously, he said.

Barrie instituted its new tow-truck rates in April 2012 that state tow drivers aren’t allowed to exceed $200 per tow, and can only be towed to within five kilometres of Barrie. They can charge $90 to recover a vehicle – not located within the travelled portion of the highway – and storage fees aren’t to exceed $60 per day.

But those in the business would like to see more bylaw enforcement and better communication between emergency personnel and tow-truck operators.

“There were some companies who were around at the time that made the city (staff) feel the bylaw changes were necessary,” said Greg Graves, of Graves Towing, adding those companies left en masse when the new bylaws were enacted.

But his concern is that the simple criminal record check required by Barrie city police is not enough to deter miscreants from entering the business.

“I’d like to see them go farther with bylaw enforcement. There’s so many people, they don’t know who they’re getting in the truck with,” Graves explained. “You’re giving all your important information to these people, like your cars keys, probably your house keys and then your credit-card number. Now they know everything about you. Or, what if they’re a sex offender? They know where you live. You don’t know.

“I’d like to see the City of Barrie do a more thorough job on background checks,” he added.

As for Bloem, he’s recovering with a deep appreciation for his colleagues and the emergency personnel who responded.

“That person hit me and drove off, leaving me for dead,” he said. “But the people who were there, paid and unpaid, at the scene, I don’t have words to say how much that meant to me.”

cheryl.browne@sunmedia.ca

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