One year after tow truck driver Courtney Schaefer was killed on Highway 22 near Esterhazy while helping a stranded motorist, roadside responders are still urging drivers to slow down when passing emergency vehicles.
Tow truck drivers from across the Saskatoon region, backed up by emergency first responders from Borden, Langham, Dalmeny,Martensville and Warman, staged a rally at the Highway 16 weigh scales near Langham on Wednesday evening, March 7.
About two dozen emergency vehicles displaying amber, red and blue flashing lights parked on the shoulders along both sides of the four-lane divided highway near the weigh scales.
Traffic passing by the parked vehicles saw emergency responders standing silently beside their vehicles in a show of respect to colleagues killed on the job.
The event was held on the anniversary of a similar, but much larger, rally at the same spot a year ago.
Brad Warriner, a tow truck driver with Brad’s Towing, said the goal of the rally is to remind motorists that emergency responders put their lives on the line to help others.
“We’re hoping to have the first week of March declared Roadside Responders Awareness Week,” said Warriner in an interview at the Highway 16 weigh scales just prior to the rally. “We want people to always be aware that police, EMS, tow truck drivers, firefighters, even people from the tire shop who change the tires on semis – they’re all people who are out there doing their jobs helping someone else get home safe.
“They face dangers every day, and we just want drivers to be careful and slow down when they’re passing emergency vehicles.”
Warriner said the provincial government’s move to allow tow trucks to use blue flashing lights has made a difference.
“Over the last year, yes, it has helped,” said Warriner. “A lot of people associate blue lights with police vehicles, so they may not realize it’s a tow truck, but the point is, they slow down, and that’s what the lights are intended to do.”
Tow truck driver Jem Gascho agreed the blue lights have helped, but there are still drivers who ignore the law and continue to drive more than 60 kilometers per hour when passing emergency vehicles.
In fact, he’s had some pretty close calls.
“I’ve been towing almost four years,” said Gascho, “I’ve been hit twice and my truck has been hit once. It’s not a nice feeling when you’re standing on the side of the road and someone sideswipes you.”
Gascho said on one occasion, a truck jumped a boulevard to get around him while he was hooking up to tow a disabled vehicle.
“I had just stood up from putting one of the scoops in on my truck, and he hit me,” said Gascho. “The impact folded his tow mirror in.”
Gascho said tow trucks aren’t parked on the side of the road with their emergency lights flashing just for fun.
“We’re there for a reason,” he said. “Take a few extra seconds and slow down.”
Warriner said the message applies to any emergency vehicle.
“It’s great to have the support of the firefighters in making people aware of this issue,” he said. “They’re called on many times to control traffic at the scene of a collision.
“Often times there’s not a lot of visibility because a lot of incidents happen during bad weather. That’s why the flashing lights are there, and drivers need to pay attention to them.”
Borden Fire Chief Terry Tkaczyk confirmed that at a recent collision on Highway 16 between two semis near Borden, many drivers didn’t slow down when passing the scene. That put firefighters in danger.
“It’s always a concern,” he said. “The message is simple. Slow down.”