Pop­u­lar high­way res­cue pro­gram re­turns


The pro­gram that thrust North Amer­ica’s busiest high­way into the lime­light is back.

Re­turn­ing for its third sea­son, Dis­cov­ery’s Heavy Res­cue: 401 doc­u­ments the day-to-day rou­tine of col­li­sion re­cov­ery crews pa­trolling Hwy. 401 and other south­ern On­tario free­ways — as well as the emer­gency and safety work­ers who keep the roads safe.

Gary Van­den­heuvel, along with his son Collin, own and op­er­ate Sar­nia-based Pre­ferred Tow­ing and have been in­volved with the pro­gram since the be­gin­ning.

“They show a lot of the chal­lenges that we faced this sea­son,” the elder Van­den­heuvel told the Toronto Sun in an in­ter­view.

De­clin­ing to spoil the sur­prise, Van­den­heuvel men­tioned an up­com­ing close call ex­pe­ri­enced by his son dur­ing one of the re­cov­er­ies this sea­son — one he says “hits close to home.”

Fa­ther-and­son in­ter­play is a re­cur­ring theme, as Gary pre­pares Collin to take over the busi­ness.

“It’s a neat thing to watch him grow up in this in­dus­try,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn — he’s got a lot com­ing his way.”

And that goes be­yond the heavy re­cov­er­ies view­ers see on TV, Van­den­heuvel ex­plains. Clear­ing a col­li­sion scene — es­pe­cially one in­volv­ing large ve­hi­cles — is a sci­ence unto its own.

“There’s physics be­hind it, there’s math be­hind it, know­ing what it takes to ac­tu­ally rig one of these units that are down in the ditch, and be able to up­right it safely,” he ex­plained.

Un­scrupu­lous op­er­a­tors and bad rep­u­ta­tions have tainted south­ern On­tario’s tow­ing in­dus­try, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for rep­utable com­pa­nies to rise above the rest.

Pro­grams like Heavy Res­cue: 401 have helped re­form the im­age of the in­dus­try.

“It’s neat to see now that the show is in, and the per­cep­tions peo­ple have of us,” he said. “They’re re­al­iz­ing the chal­lenges that we face, and the skill sets needed for a job like this.”

While the show is cen­tred around Hwy. 401, Pre­ferred Tow­ing works on Hwy. 402 — a par­tic­u­larly treach­er­ous 100-kilo­me­tre stretch that links the Blue Wa­ter Bridge at the Canada-U.S. bor­der, near Sar­nia, and Hwy. 401 at Lon­don.

“The 402 poses its own chal­lenges, we’re right on Lake Huron,” he said. “We can get some re­ally ex­treme con­di­tions.”

Lake-ef­fect snow squalls cre­ate white-out con­di­tions, dump­ing enor­mous amounts of snow on the truck-heavy route — a recipe for some spec­tac­u­lar wrecks.

Thanks to an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence, Van­den­heuvel hears from view­ers around the world ask­ing about ca­reers in heavy re­cov­ery, and what it takes to make a mark in the in­dus­try.

“It takes a lot of nerve some days,” he said. “Peo­ple just don’t take that ex­tra minute, when they see the flash­ing lights, to step it down a notch. It’s frus­trat­ing.”

Heavy Res­cue: 401’s new sea­son airs Tues­days at 10 p.m. on Dis­cov­ery.


Gary Van­den­heuvel, right, owner of Pre­ferred Tow­ing, and his son, Collin Van­den­heuvel, re­turn for a new sea­son of Heavy Res­cue: 401.


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