24-hour breakdown recovery: All-terrain commando

24 hours a day, the recovery service of Bernard Trucks Bourgogne in Saint Marcel must be ready to get out in the middle of speeding traffic to tow heavy trucks or tankers blocking the road. Equipped with a recovery truck and two rapid intervention vans from Renault Trucks - it’s a dangerous job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Each year, the 24-hour recovery service of Bernard Trucks Bourgogne in Saint Marcel performs on average 300 breakdown recovery interventions, with sometimes three during the same night. A specialist’s affair with a set of strict rules.

Obviously, a truck cannot be handled in the same way as a car.

 “It is always tricky, you have to watch out for everything, including the unexpected.” Jean-Luc Martin, breakdown-recovery mechanic, and Jérôme Choux, team leader, operate as a team in the 24 hour recovery service of Bernard Trucks Bourgogne in Saint-Marcel, which is run by six persons. Within a radius of 50 km the team performs all types of interventions with, if needed, the support of their colleagues and dedicated equipment based in Chagny and Mâcon.

As soon as the alert is given to the 24-hour recovery service, either by the customer or the police, the recovery truck takes to the road. This 6x4 vehicle of 26 tonnes and 340 horse power is capable of towing a load of 100 tonnes. The fleet also includes two Renault Master rapid intervention vans, each equipped with two winches mounted on pivoting bases. These mobile-workshop vehicles are equipped with a full range of equipment: electricity generating units, battery bank, blowtorch and 6 meters vertical lighting mast.

“It’s dangerous when it’s dark. The most important thing is to be seen clearly from far away. You have to stay alert. On the motorway, it can sometimes get scary with the aspiration from passing cars”, admits Jean-Luc Martin.

When they set out, they do not necessarily know what to expect at the scene, perhaps a truck stuck in the ditch or an overturned tanker carrying a substance that is difficult to identify.

“Sometimes, we have to lift a semi trailer back onto its wheels. And occasionally we even have to saw through it to be able to get it out of the road as quickly as possible! We sometimes must also clear the road and remove any goods. Recently, this was the case for a cargo of wine. We had to clear the road bottle by bottle.”

On arrival, the two-man team places the traffic cones on the road. The breakdown mechanics don their high-visibility reflective vests. In the event of an accident, they often find themselves at the scene together with the fire brigade, police and the county roads department for the accident assessment. Once the assessment has been completed, it is their turn to enter into action.

The trickiest phase of the intervention is not necessarily at the scene of the breakdown. The return trip also has its difficulties and a mistake can have severe consequences.

 “When we bring the truck back, we have to anticipate distances, braking, downhill gradients and traffic; drivers in a rush can also pull over into the convoy. A log carrier can weigh up to 60 tonnes and there is no room for error!” adds Jérôme Choux. In this case, an additional braking system is installed on the towed vehicle and controlled from the breakdown recovery truck.

Both Jérôme and Jean-Luc admit that the most difficult part is the fatigue, the fight to stay awake.
“It is a demanding profession. You have to be available at any time, be reactive and focused to be able to be efficient whilst at the same time complying with the safety rules.”

Indeed, the breakdown recovery operation follows strict rules. Procedural compliance and intervention performance are also evaluated by the Renault Trucks 24 hour breakdown recovery department. In 2008, Jérôme Choux’s team was amongst the best in France.

Nightfall is approaching. It is 6:00pm at Bernard Trucks Bourgogne in Saint-Marcel, the towing truck is parked whilst the file is being completed. At the dealership’s 24-hour breakdown recovery service, the phone starts ringing again. Jean-Luc and Jérôme wait for the briefing. For the standby team, it means that the night shift is about to start, with the ringing of telephones, the whoosh of cars passing nearby and the flashing blue lights of the police. 

Text:  Didier Rougeyron
Photo:  Jean-Claude Dortmann

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