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It was hard not to notice the line of 40 tow trucks, wreckers and rescue vehicles leading in to Wilson Thursday afternoon as the American Towman Spirit Ride arrived at the Wilson County Fairgrounds.
At the head of the line was a rollback truck with a casket strapped on where a car would usually be.
The Spirit Ride casket campaign started in 2017.
“It’s made one trip around the country. This is the second year,” said Kevin Raper, owner of Aggressive Towing and Recovery. “North Carolina was the first leg of the tour for this 2018.”
After a brief ceremony at the fairgrounds, the casket was rolled onto one of Raper’s trucks to lead the way down to Havelock, the next stop on the journey.
Raper said the whole effort is designed to bring awareness to the driving community to slow down and move over for police, fire and rescue personnel, and tow truck operators who have to work on the roadsides.
“I lost my buddy three years ago on I-95,” Raper said. “This is just to bring a stronger public awareness to outreach the motoring public. We got a good response today.”
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Dwayne Martin of the Black Creek Fire Department, who bought one of his department’s trucks to join in the caravan.
“It’s for our safety more than anything,” Martin said. “People just need to heed the warnings when they see our lights and move over, which is what our North Carolina law says.”
Raper said that rescue workers don’t have a safety net along the roads.
“We are inches away from the motoring pubic and common courtesy would be to give us the extra room to get the job done and get out of there in a timely manner,” Raper said.
A.J. O’Briant, chief of the Sanoca Fire Department in Saratoga, brought the department’s ladder truck to raise an American flag over the ceremonies.
“We are participating and representing our department in our support of the Spirit Ride,” O’Briant said. “Hopefully, this will get bigger and bigger every year and will help educate the public on how important it is to move away from first responders who are operating on the roadway.”
“We want to bring some education and highlight what we are doing to make everybody aware to slow down and move over,” O’Briant said. “We are on the road every day whether it be a structure fire or an auto accident, we are operating on the roadway. We have a lot of representation from the volunteers and the municipal departments here today. I just hope that these stops bring education to the communities and the motoring public just to slow down and move over. I hope they get their message across.”
Firefighter Jason Perry, of Wilson Fire-Rescue Services, said the message is important.
“When we get called to help, we are on the roads,” Perry said. “It’s important for people to slow down because we are in the roadway working. Being in the roadway, we can’t pay attention to the traffic and help the patient at the same time. It’s a hard thing to do. It’s very important for people to slow down not just for fire and rescue but for tow trucks and towmen out there getting cars off the side of the road. People just need to pay attention.”