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Monday, May 23, 2011

Nice Press In NV

Las Vegas Business Press :: Business Life : They've Got Pull
Here's the story:
Peter Catron is not a cop or a paramedic, but he was on the front lines of the emergency-response effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Catron oversees operations for Las Vegas-based Quality Towing, and was sent to the Gulf Coast in October 2005 with a crew of 25 tow-truck drivers to clear cars from debris-filled streets.

Catron's team roamed from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, La., to Gulfport, Miss., parking their travel trailers in community center and church parking lots with access to electricity and running water. Catron would scout nearby neighborhoods for grocery stores and laundry services so the drivers would have food to eat and clean clothes to wear after long days of unearthing cars buried in trees and sand. Bologna sandwiches and potato chips were often on the menu.

Despite the widespread looting and frequent gun battles between roving criminals and police, Canon and his treaters were treated with kindness by Louisiana residents after the hurricane. One family offered Catron use of their bathroom, which turned out to be a lone toilet in the back of the large, flooded-out room that was once their home.

"We're a lot like a mortician," Catron said. "People don't really plan on using you or save for the day when they need a tow, but we're there when it's at its worst. People were really helpful."

The National Guard imposed strict curfews on the drivers, warning them of looters and packs of wild dogs, and designated ZIP codes from which Quality's drivers could collect cars. Catron's team would find and pick up vehicles while the sun was out, then pile them in a "safe zone" to be retrieved at night. When a new neighborhood opened up, the drivers would move on.

Almost six years later, Catron can still picture the devastation.

"You see the pictures and it doesn't compare," he said. "When they opened up the new ZIP code area, whether it be animal or human remains, you could smell the rotting carcasses."

Hurricane Katrina was the first major disaster Quality Towing responded to, but it wasn't the last. The company's tow-truck drivers traveled to Houston after Hurricane Ike; Nashville, Tenn., after last year's floods; and most recently Chicago and Boston after a series of snowstorms blanketed both cities.

Quality's parent company, United Road Towing, coordinates nationwide catastrophe response efforts, and Quality general manager Jason Kent said his drivers are more than willing to take their equipment across the country if necessary. When a request for relief comes from United Road, Kent alerts his drivers, who then choose whether to volunteer.

In some cases, like New Orleans, the need for outside help is apparent. In others, like Chicago and Boston, which have their own towing companies, Quality contributes manpower and additional trucks as support for its affiliates.

"(The towing companies) have what they need under normal circumstances, but when things like (the recent snowstorms) happen, the local resources get overwhelmed," Kent said. "Our drivers and personnel out there were working really long hours in harsh conditions. They can handle it for the most part, but if they need the resources, why not get some relief if they can?"

Quality sent drivers to Chicago and Boston to remove cars from the streets so plows could clear the snow. Rather than camp out in parking lots like their colleagues did after Hurricane Katrina, the three drivers sent to Chicago and three sent to Boston were housed in hotels for the duration of their work.

The company also contributes to emergency response efforts in their own community, donating vehicles and support to the local fire and police departments so first-responders can practice dealing with large-vehicle accidents.

The catastrophe response efforts are philanthropic, but also inspire goodwill in consumers, who aren't big fans of towing companies.

"Let's face it: if we're involved, someone's having a bad day," Kent said.

But when catastrophe strikes, Quality Towing might just save the day.

Contact reporter Caitlin McGarry at cmcgarry@lvbusinesspress.com or 702-387-5273
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