Cpt. Tom Martin Tells Towers:
“Lead, Follow or Get Out of The Way:The Future of Private Sector Towing”
An introduction by TRAA’s Harriet Cooley: “At the second TRAA Legislative and Leadership Conference held 12 years ago, we invited Captain Tom Martin of the Virginia State Police to review for us a video we had received showing tow operators working with law enforcement at the scene. This video had not been seen by our industry nor had Cpt. Martin seen it until I sent it to him for review and asked him to share it with the conference along with his thoughts.“He was not shy about speaking his mind about the video. Although it had been created by a well-known research university, he shared his sincere astonishment about its condescending treatment of the towers featured in it! This was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between the towing industry and Captain Martin, which was further enhanced several years later by the production of the popular video “The Hats of Incident Management.”“Cpt. Martin filmed it in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Association of Towing & Recovery Operators (VATRO). The Hats video was met with such a favorable response that his fame among towers increased even more!“We always try to feature Cpt. Martin on the agenda for the L&L Conference, and he has graciously accepted almost all of our invitations. One of the great things about his presentations is that he genuinely cares about towers and the industry, so when he gives the assembled conferees his “straight talk,” they take it just as intended — an opportunity to learn how they can become better at what they do and work with the other responders so that the whole Traffic Incident Management (TIM) team wins!“Lead, Follow or Get Out of The Way: The Future of Private Sector Towing is just such “straight talk” and was very much appreciated by all in attendance last March. I have received many requests for copies, and it has been suggested that we find a way to film Cpt. Martin presenting it and get copies out to all the state towing associations and their members. Read on and you will see why this would be a worthwhile project….”— Harriet Cooley, Executive Director, TRAA
. .Cpt. Tom Martin’s Speech
“Good morning; it is a privilege for me to be invited back to the TRAA 2011 Legislative and Leadership Conference. It is so good to see so many old friends.“My name is Tom Martin and I am the Operations Program Coordinator for the I-95 Corridor Coalition. The Coalition is a group of 16 states from Maine to Florida. The Coalition does not focus just on highway I-95; it focuses on multimodal transportation of people and goods along the East Coast. The Coalition knows the importance of moving people and goods throughout the corridor and the severe personal and economic impact when we do not.“The Coalition began in the early 1990s as an informal group of transportation professionals to manage major highway incidents. The Coalition was formally established in 1993 to enhance regional transportation mobility, safety, and efficiency.“The Coalition works with its member states on a consensus basis. In other words, the Coalition has no legislative authority. We do not buy or sell anything. We do not tell anyone what to do or how to do it. We try to get agencies and people to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Sound familiar?“The challenges of the Coalition are in many ways the same challenges you as leaders have in the towing and recovery industry. You have no legislative authority; you are selling a service and not a product. You do not tell others in your industry how to run their business. You are trying to get agencies and people to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. You are a consensus-based organization when it comes to directing an industry.“I would like to talk to you for the next few minutes about the future of private sector towing.”
“Maybe you do not see a need for a discussion on the future of private sector towing. Maybe you do not see an issue with governments operating tow services, buying towing equipment, and conducting removal operations. Maybe you like the way governments and localities run their rotation lists, write their contracts for services, structure the pay and bid process.“Maybe you think a zero bid for a service contract just to get the towing rights to a certain section of highway is a good business practice. Maybe you truly believe that everyone has your best interest at heart when they are controlling your industry.“But for the one or two here who think there may be a problem, let’s look at some issues. Please understand that I am not criticizing or in any way suggesting how you should run your business — you are the industry experts, not me, but I truly care about your industry. I have been involved with the towing industry for many years.
“As a matter of fact, one of my first meetings with towers was when I was a First Sergeant with the Virginia State Police in Northern Virginia and that was in 1989. So I have been in and around your business for over 20 years. I have seen great progress in the development of a professional organization but I also have seen pockets of disappointment and frustration.“Would you like to know what that first meeting was about? Well, it was a meeting with Virginia Association of Towing and Recovery Operators (VATRO) after they sent a letter to the State Police complaining about the State Police Rotation list. Can you imagine that? — someone complaining about the rotation list? (Here he reads a portion of the letter). This letter is dated January 3, 1989 but if any of you would like a copy, you can just change the date and send it. I look at this as 22 years of progress.“I have another letter about a meeting where, of all things, VATRO was complaining about VDOT purchasing wreckers to station at the bridges. For some silly reason they did not think the government should be doing a private sector job.“This letter is dated August 18, 1993, but I bet there are a few here that would just like to change the date and send it to some government agency that is buying towing equipment in your locale.
“To start the discussion about the future of private sector towing, I would like for you to think about your top three problems. What are the top three issues you face as an industry? Can you agree on the top three problems? If not, maybe that is problem number one.“Now I would like for you to consider three things you need to do to improve the future of your industry. Again, do you think you can all agree on what those may be?“Instead of listing three specific tasks you need to achieve or three specific policies or laws you need enact, let’s identify three concepts that may dictate the future of private sector towing.“I think the three areas of focus to guide your industry to success are: leadership, followership, and moving obstacles out of the way: lead, follow, or get out of the way!“Leadership in any national organization is critical. I see this group as the leadership core. I see this group as critical to the success of your industry. I see this group developing and implementing a strategy for the future.“I see the challenges being that, first, you will not agree on a clear direction and we will continue to have 50 leaders going in 50 directions with limited local success and no national success. I also see a challenge in that you will want to deal with the laws and the policies and forget to address a critical issue: Perception!
“What is the perception of your industry? It makes no difference what the reality — the public’s perception, the local and state government’s perception — is of the towing industry as a whole. You are part of the industry. Your individual towing company is lumped with all other companies when it comes to an industry perception.“Just as law enforcement and firefighters are lumped into one group, so is the towing industry. As an industry you should always consider the perception, not of an individual company but of the industry as a whole.“Is the general perception of the towing and recovery industry one of a professional, well-trained, well-equipped industry that is dedicated to prompt efficient service? Is the perception that you care about the motoring public, responder safety, efficient movement of traffic, quick clearance, preventing secondary incidents, or do you think the perception is that you only think about yourself, your next call, your next dollar!
“So as a leadership challenge, remember: the perception of what you do is sometimes more powerful that what you really do or how you do it.
“The next challenge is followership. Everyone cannot be and should not be leaders. Without followers there is no need for leaders.“Think of the tremendous number of towing and recovery operators in the United States. Think of what could be accomplished if that group could somehow be mobilized to march in the same direction.“What can you do to mobilize this group? I think it may be hard if you are identifying a business practice but what about a safety practice? Everyone should be interested in safety. Whether it is reflectorized vests or emergency lighting practices, surely there has to be some common ground just like in your training video “Roadside Safety: Everyone Goes Home.” “Even for the real hardcore converts that do not want to change the way they do business, just convince them that safety can save money on insurance and workmen’s compensation.“Wherever I go and no matter what group I talk to, I talk about safety for all. I remind the police not to leave the tower alone and exposed to traffic. The practice of driving off when the tow truck arrives needs to stop. I always talk about the Wall of the Fallen and challenge the audience to visit this place just like they visit the Police Officers Memorial or the Fallen Fire Fighters Memorial.
Outta The Way
“And one thing that I really get upset about is when a state does not include DOTs and towers in the Move Over law. It should cover all responders, all lights, including amber. And for the life of me, I cannot understand why someone would feel the life of a police officer or fire fighter is more important than the life of a tower. Any life is too precious to waste on the side of the road — but wait, I digress….“Back to followership: I encourage you to find a way to mobilize the towers on maybe one or two issues and this following will be powerful.“The last leadership challenge is that there just may be a few folks who just need to get out of the way. Do you have people in your industry who just complain about everything? I am not against constructive criticism if someone is willing to work toward a solution, but the negative naysayers, the ones who always criticize and are never willing to venture in a new direction, will cripple an entire industry if you let it.“Lead, follow, or get out of the way!
“As I was looking at the theme for this conference, “Bringing the Towing Industry into Balance,” I thought what a great initiative to unite and support the industry. You have great numbers, and assuring the towers are visible and engaged in every local event will go a long way to building a professional reputation.“Getting engaged in a positive way will not only help bridge the understanding of your industries, it will also help dispel some of the myths about your industry. You know better than I that there is a lot of misunderstanding about what you do and why you do it.“Getting engaged in the TIM network is a great way to keep up with what’s going on locally and nationally. When there is a training program in the area, show up and participate. Yes, I know there will be somewhere you are not invited but there are others where you are always welcome.“The Corridor Coalition and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) partnered last September and hosted a National Unified Goal (NUG) Summit. The NUG Summit had over 150 people in attendance and an additional 150 on the webinar. Harriet Cooley was on the agenda and participated in a panel discussion on identifying gaps in TIM Team development. This was a great opportunity to reach over 300 people at a national audience with the message of including towing and recovery in the process.
“On a more local level, the I-95 Corridor Coalition conducts Quick Clearance Workshops throughout the East Coast. Towers are always invited to these multi-discipline workshops. This is so important because issues are addressed and your industry is represented and can address problems and misunderstandings.“You know there is very little difference between a conflict and a misunderstanding. And if we clear up the misunderstanding, we avoid the devastating effects of conflict.“We have had four or five workshops in and around Virginia and Sue Brassell of VATRO has attended everyone of them. Sue gets our perfect attendance award. For some of them she has had to travel several hours but she is always there representing the interests of towers. This is the type of commitment that will bring your industry into balance.“As I conclude, 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 get involved and get engaged.“Lead, follow or get out of the way!”
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.
Monday, May 23, 2011
From TRAA's Legislative & Leadership 2011 Conference
Posted by Cyndi Kight, Associate Editor of Towing & Recovery Footnotes at 5:22 PM