By JOHN H. PALMER
You could say that Corey Gawricki is hooked on his job.
It sounds cliché, but he provides a service that many of us don't think of until we need it -- and then he's the most important person in the world.
For the better part of 16 years, Gawricki has worked as a tow truck operator for Connecticut Towing and Recovery, located on Church Street. Most of his days -- and nights -- are spent in or near a flatbed truck responding to calls for help on the side of the road.
When a car breaks down and needs a tow to the service station, he swings into action. If the police department finds an unregistered vehicle or needs a vehicle involved in a crime impounded, he's got their back. And when a tractor-trailer jackknifes on the highway, it's him we rely on to get traffic moving again.
He's dealt with irate customers who don't want their cars towed, feared for his life as traffic roars by within feet of him, and sprung from his table in the middle of dinner to help you out -- and he wouldn't have it any other way.
"You've got to be a people person and a good driver," he said. "Most important, you have to want to work. You never know when you're going to be busy. It can be dead all day and then it's 5:30 and you get slammed with 10 or 15 calls."
Gawricki's "office" is his flatbed, which he takes home to his Buttonball Trail home every night so he can be on call 24 hours a day. Connecticut Towing and Recovery is located off Taylor Avenue and a stone's throw from I-95, so close they can almost hear the wrecks when they happen.
While he says he never likes to see people get hurt in accidents, the recovery work is what he lives for. Do enough routine towing jobs for a while and you'll see why he finds it fun to pull a big rig from off the side of the road. It's not easy work pulling vehicles that weigh thousands of pounds upright. Whenever he responds he needs to think about traffic concerns, how thick of a cable to use, and where the vehicle will end up once he gets it up. And a new state law that requires motorists to pull over for emergency vehicles -- apparently they don't get it that he's one of them.
"If you're a tow truck on the side of the road, people don't slow down. You're out there trying to hook up a car, and then a trailer truck goes by you two feet away," he said. "Here I am lying on the side of the roadway."
Like it or not, Gawricki gets to see the results of people driving too fast and the after-effects of what happens when people end up on the bad side of accidents. He's seen more dead and mangled bodies than a 33-year-old should see, but it's part of the job. He'll tell you -- with a tear in his eye -- about the double tractor-trailer that went off I-95 near Exit 17 in 2006 and went through a wood barrier. And he'll tell you about the Volvo wagon that rode the guardrail on the Merritt Parkway and stopped only when it hit a bridge abutment and the driver went through the open sunroof.
"It was grey in color -- I remember things like that," he said. "I just remember the guy in the body bag with his arms and legs ripped off. I don't have the stomach for that."
While gruesome scenes like this stick in his mind, most of his day is spent responding to more mundane calls for help -- usually the motorist stuck on the side of the road. The company contracts with AAA and several insurance companies, so daily calls are more likely to include dead batteries, flat tires, and lockouts. While his heavy duty truck has all the winches, hooks, and cables needed to pull stuck vehicles out of sticky situations, he also carries crowbars, wrenches, and other simple tools needed for the smaller jobs.
Gawricki is one of four guys on the road daily for Connecticut Towing and Recovery, and each of them gets about 10 calls daily. During snowstorms and other busy times, he said there can be 50 calls waiting for them at a time. He's had his share of irate customers, too -- those who think the tow truck takes too long to get there or that the cost is too much.
Tow truck drivers in Connecticut are governed by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and it's that entity that sets the price for tows starting at $88 based on vehicle weight. The law was put in place to stop the price gouging found in some big cities like New York, where "chaser" trucks listen to scanners and race to be the first on the scene to charge whatever they want. Gawricki has at times left a driver stranded who decided he wanted to argue with him about his job.
"People think we tow them because we wanted to -- we're just doing our job," he said. "We try to treat everyone with respect but we don't always get it back."
Gawricki was born in Norwalk in 1977 and still lives in the house he grew up in on Buttonball Trail. He attended Tracey School, West Rocks Middle School, and attended Norwalk High for two years before deciding school wasn't the path for him.
In 1994, he was hired by Wayne Masone, who ran Connecticut Towing and Recovery out of Norwalk Exxon on Main Street. At that time, the company only operated one two truck and that's how Gawricki learned.
But like most trades, learning is doing, and he grew up with trucking at a very young age. Many of his uncles and relatives were truckers, and he decided to follow in their footsteps.
"When I was a kid, I used to watch B.J. and the Bear, and I thought driving a truck was the coolest thing," he said.
After getting his commercial driving license at age 18, Gawricki took jobs driving big rigs. His first job was with a transporter company that would drive the cars of snowbirds down to Florida and back. In 2003, he worked for his uncle's construction company operating heavy duty pavers and excavators, and then in 2005 he went to work driving a dump truck for Bonnadio Construction.
He always took side jobs driving trucks, but it was towing that was his first love, and he's been doing it for Masone ever since. The company has grown a lot over the years, and moved to the new location in 2002 to a bigger place so they could focus on body work as well as towing. There's a lot more to towing than meets the eye, and Gawricki has gone to school to get better at it. He attended Lewiston, NY-based Wreckmasters, a training school for the towing industry that runs clinics to help operators become safer and more effective at their jobs. Skills learn include how to safely hook up a vehicle, and basic physics of moving a large vehicle.
"They basically don't want you to kill yourself," he said. "If you're trying to move a car that's 8,000 pounds, and you're using a cable rated for 3,000 pounds, that's not a good thing."
When he's not on the road, you can find Gawricki watching drag racing or on the water boating, a hobby he has enjoyed since he was 17 years old when he got his first boat.
"Everyone is happy on the water," he said. "Everybody waves to each other. You don't see too many people waving to a guy in a tow truck."
Monday, May 3, 2010
Positive Profile On CT Tower
That's refreshing! Here's the story from The Hour:
Posted by Cyndi Kight, Associate Editor of Towing & Recovery Footnotes at 3:01 PM