Upshur County commissioners Sam Nolte and Kristie Tenney discuss the wrecker policy at the commission's Feb. 18 meeting. / Photo by Monica Zalaznik

Commission weighs changes to emergency towing services policy

BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Commission on Thursday voted to table changes to the county’s procedure to dispatch towing services following motor vehicle accidents.

The procedure to dispatch wrecker services – i.e., vehicle-towing services – dictates the E911 Upshur County Communication Center’s response to requests or dispatches for emergency towing services. Anytime the Comm Center needs to dispatch towing services, it must abide by that set of procedures. Generally speaking, the Comm Center utilizes a list of area wrecker services to remove vehicles when wrecks occur in the county.

During the Feb. 17 Upshur County Commission meeting, Upshur County Administrator Carrie Wallace listed the proposed revisions to the existing policy.

“If a wrecker service is canceled by no fault of their own, they will remain at the top of the list, but if an owner would like to make a specific request for a wrecker, they need to contact them individually,” Wallace said. “In the event the wrecker on rotation arrives on scene before that owner’s requested wrecker arrives, the dispatched wrecker on rotation will tow that vehicle.”

This change means an owner of the vehicle cannot ask the Comm Center to request a specific towing service, but they may call one on their own. However, if the wrecker dispatched by the Comm Center arrives on scene first, that wrecker will tow the vehicle or vehicles involved.

“Each wrecker may have two contact numbers for dispatch, and both of those numbers will be called before the next wrecker on rotation is contacted,” Wallace said. “In the event a wrecker fails to answer both of those phone calls, that will be considered a refusal and move them to them bottom of the list.”

Wallace noted that there is also only one large towing service in Upshur County, so that company may be called outside of the regular rotation telecommunicators use.

“Another item that we address in the policy, which was as a result of a question when discussing this is currently we only have one large towing service in the county,” Wallace said. “In the event that there is a need for a large towing service, they will be contacted outside of rotation, and they would not lose their turn on the regular rotation.”

Kimbra Wachob, assistant director of the E911 Upshur County Telecommunications Center, as well as several representatives from local towing companies, expressed concern about the policy change because it would also remove police officer requests for a specific towing service. Wachob said there are times when police-officer requests for specific wrecker services are warranted and result in the roadway being cleared more quickly.

“We’ve had issues with accidents, with extenuating circumstances, that [do] warrant an officer request,” Wachob said. “I’m really hesitant to do away with an officer request, and I understand the issues that you guys are probably getting from the wrecker companies because it can be misused. However, we’ve had issues where there’s been horrible road conditions and we have certain areas of the county that get extremely slick, and it starts a pileup with multiple cars in one area … Sometimes, it’s imperative to have a quick wrecker to start cleaning out some of these cars.”

Wallace said the previous policy addressed this issue and that section can be reinstated but including it would require the commission to table adopting the new policy until the next commission meeting Feb. 24.

“There was previously a part of this procedure that read as follows: ‘In order to provide for the public safety and welfare, first responders have the authority to override a request made by the operator or owner of the vehicle or make a request for the towing service company in closest proximity,’” Wallace said. “Under this circumstance, it will not cause the towing service to forfeit their spot on the list or they will go their normal position on the rotation list.”

Upshur County commissioners Sam Nolte and Kristie Tenney voted to table the updated procedures until they could discuss keeping this previous policy. If the revised procedure to dispatch wrecker services is adopted in the next commission meeting, the new policy could go into effect April 1.

The county’s official policy governing its procedure to dispatch wrecker services has been altered a handful of times in recent years in response to a variety of issues raised by the owners of towing services, the Comm Center or other affected parties. The most recent changes were adopted at an August 2021 commission meeting, but discussion about additional revisions to the policy was again listed as an agenda item on the commission’s Jan. 13, 2022, meeting, when it was tabled.

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