In part three of this article series, we review Wreckmaster's five-step protocol for staying safe and working efficiently, then focus in on step three: explaining to those at the scene what you're doing. As a tow operator, you can use these communication tips to speak to incident commanders and customers with confidence.
As a quick recap, the Wreckmaster discipline has five steps to ensure a safer, faster tow or recovery, with each step corresponding to one of the letters in the word 'SCENE.'
S stands for “SURVEY”
C stands for “CALCULATE”
E stands for “EXPLAIN”
N stands for “NOs”
E stands for “EXECUTE”
Our first article covered 'SURVEY.' In this step, the operator examines everything at the scene to develop a plan.
If you're a numbers guy, you probably loved step two: 'CALCULATE.' In this step, the operator determines the amount of force required to move the casualty, which depends on surface, terrain, the condition of the casualty, the load its carrying, and more.
'E' STANDS FOR EXPLAIN
Communication is one of the most important parts of any tow or recovery. Who needs to be in the loop? Who's the boss at the scene? What do the folks back at the shop need to know? What do you need to tell fellow operators at the scene? Who's talking to the customer? There are many links in the communication chain. Break one, and the whole thing can fall apart.
Once you're on scene, the first thing to establish is who's in charge. Depending on the size of the incident, there may be several different agencies present, including law enforcement, emergency medical personnel, fire fighters, DOT, traffic control, roadway crews, utility companies, environmental personnel, insurance companies and, let's not forget, the victim. With all these people present, it can be difficult to establish who the incident commander is. Generally, the fire personnel will take on that role, although law enforcement officials will often take control of the scene, particularly where traffic control is a consideration. If only the victim or customer is present, they're the person you'll need to talk to.
Approach with confidence and consideration, regardless of who you are addressing, as your attitude and appearance will be the first things people take notice of. They're sizing you up, and posture and stride are characteristics that can mean the difference between earning respect and instilling skepticism, inspiring confidence and bringing stereotypes to mind.
Be direct and assertive in your communication style, and avoid industry terminology or technical jargon as it may be misunderstood. Explain clearly who you are, who you represent, and why you're there. Ask questions and ascertain what the expectations are. It is imperative to understand everyone’s roles and to explain your roles and the roles of your team members. Answer questions to the best of your ability.
No one can know it all, so don't pretend you do. Avoid terms like “maybe,” “it should,” “it could,” “I hope,” “it might” and “it may,” as these phrases don’t instill confidence, but don't speak authoritatively about things you're unsure of, either. In towing and recovery, the line drawn between success and failure is very clearly defined. Either something is going to work or it's not. Everything else is a grey area and guessing game. If you don’t know the answer to a given question, your answer should be “I don’t know. I’ll look into that and get back to you,” rather than “Let's give it whirl and see what happens.”
If there's something beyond your skill or capabilities, call someone in to help or ask someone already on scene to assist you. Your humility will show your professionalism. Professionals will wait until they're sure, rather than jumping in blind. Professionals will hand off responsibilities to those who have the proper training, equipment and insurance coverage. Professionals don't take on liabilities they can't defend if things don't work out as anticipated.
Be as honest, realistic and accurate as possible when estimating time. It’s always a good idea to pad your predictions by a few minutes as a cushion for the unexpected and unpredictable aspects of the job. If you finish before your estimated time, you'll come across as more efficient.
Keep those in charge at the scene informed about your progress. If you'll be deviating from your original plan or time predictions, you’ll want to communicate those adjustments as well. Once the job is complete, remind the officials or the customer about the completion and exit strategy. Always get permission to exit the scene from any officials that may be present.
Next time we'll tackle the fourth step—'N' for 'nos.'