Danger: Who's in the Breakaway Zone?
By RANDALL C. RESCH - AT Operations Editor
In San Francisco, Calif., I saw a police department's parking control officer impounding a vehicle from a residential street. The impound itself was typical, but the officer was situated in a position I would deem extremely dangerous. With her scooter parked directly behind the car being impounded, she stood directly behind the vehicle's rear bumper writing the impound report, unaware she stood directly in harm's way.
Cops and parking control officers sometimes are completely oblivious because they're wrapped up in the routine of impound. You'd think they'd know better than to stand behind a 4,000-lbs. vehicle being winched onto a carrier's deck. As the vehicle was winched higher, she made no effort to step out of the way.
A vehicle being winched onto a carrier's sloped deck has extreme potential of coming loose, making it one that's completely unstoppable; a potential killer.
What's worse about the entire scenario is the tower didn't make any effort to cease loading and tell the officer to move out of harm's way. It seems like this would be a scenario where the professionally aware tower would've taken control of the potential for danger (and possibly save the officer's life).
Here's a scenario that should help make this point: Another tower was winching an impound onto his carrier. While the tower did his thing, the impounding officer was parked behind the towed vehicle seated in his cruiser writing paperwork. As the tower operated the right-side controls, as the vehicle reached nearly the top of the deck, the winch let go. Without notice, the vehicle rolled down the deck slamming hard into the police car's front bumper.
The wayward vehicle hit the cruiser with such force, the officer pitched face-forward into the steering wheel, chipping a front tooth. Although the officer's life was spared that day, a valuable, yet embarrassing, lesson was had.
An investigation determined the tower didn't confirm that the winch's gears relocked after he'd free-spooled cable. In the same manner that a winch lets go unexpectedly, anyone standing directly behind the carrier's deck is most certainly standing in a dangerous location. Hence, it's the tower's responsibility to ensure all persons, especially cops, are well away from the "Breakaway Zone."
When vehicles are being loaded onto a flatbed carrier, towers must make sure all persons stand away from the breakaway zone. Even if you're the best tower in your community, you'll never be able to anticipate when a loading cable might let go, or if the winch doesn't hold, or when the hydraulics fail—you'll just never know.
Because you're in charge of loading operations, clear the zone first before commencing winch-on activities. And, once the vehicle is winched to where you want it to be, immediately attach a top-side safety device to prevent breakaway. This is one safety consideration that shouldn't be overlooked.
We're not supposed to tell cops what to do, but this is one warning that could save a life.Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and online. Randall was a 2014 inductee into the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame.