Since the implementation of snowshed protocol and the start of the TV program, in 2012, the Coquihalla has seen a steady decline in accidents causing fatalities. (Sarah Grochowski photo)

Local family stars in Highway Thru Hell

Al Quiring has rescued thousands of drivers on the Coquihalla Highway in his 30 years of towing.

Four generations of Quiring’s have lived and worked as tow truck operators out of a 20-acre property on 16th Avenue in Aldergrove.

Al Quiring — a 51-year-old towing and heavy-duty recovery specialist, is a grandson who walks in the footsteps of Elmer and Ann — who first founded the family business in 1962.

The local company, Quiring Towing & Recovery, has garnered global recognition for its recurring role in Highway Thru Hell – a reality television series where Quiring and his competition battle harsh winter conditions to keep the Coquihalla Highway free and clear for traffic.

Al began working for the family business — now owned by his father Bob Quiring — in 1994 and has had a successful 25 years of seemingly impossible highway rescues since.

His son, Cary, (also featured on the TV show) is poised to take over Quiring’s role in the family business.

“Cary is working at taking over my job, which is perfect cause he grew up a kid in my truck the same way I grew up in my dad’s truck,” Al Quiring recounted.

His 25-year-old son had a life-changing experience when towing solo on the Coquihalla last year, happening upon the biggest wreck in the highway’s 30 year history.

Cary worked in the aftermath of the multi-vehicle crash, where 29 riders on two Greyhound buses were injured as a part of a collision with two semi-trailers and two cars.

“My son was the third or fourth person behind all that. He actually got the people out of the Greyhound bus,” Quiring boasted.

When asked whether his father pays him for towing gigs, Cary replied, “I don’t work for money, I work for family.”

Quirings were contracted through the Kamloops division of the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure from Oct. 31 to March 31 this year.

They also shares tow jobs on the Trans-Canada Highway — from 27600-block to the Vedder Canal — with two other firms, each who operate on-call in two-week intervals.

READ MORE: Road safety tragedy hits home for Kelowna tow truck firm

Quiring first started as a hauler who would bomb the company’s Kenworth T800 High Hood wrecker down the highway in a moment’s notice when the weather turned.

“Twenty-five years ago you’d hear people stuck on that highway for days. I’d go out there to pull out drivers and help them,” Quiring said.

Highway maintenance officials in Kamloops began to count on Quiring in winter.

Nowadays, Al and that T800 are dispatched by VSA Highway Maintenance Ltd. and another contractor to conduct snowshed protocols that Quiring helped design.

It includes lights that signal highway drivers to chain their tires and extra snow plows to clear the pass. At this time, Quiring is called to the top of a hill to oversee traffic flows, and assists with towing vehicles.

In other dire instances in the highway, Al is called to help.

“In an eight-hour work day, we respond to 10 to 20 calls for dire assistance on the Coquihalla,” Quiring said, “The TV show recorded an average number of 47 responses in a 24-hour span.”

Calls include incidents ranging from commercial truck crashes to spun out or jackknifed semi-trailers, cars stuck in snow banks, and even ethanol and propane tanker crashes.

“I’ve been on jobs where things are flipped over and you look around and there’s not a soul around for half a mile,” Quiring explained.

“Way up on the hill you can see the fire chief from the local hall plugging his ears because he’s afraid something’s going to go boom – the only guy in the middle of it is me,” Al explained.

The long-time hauler has rescued thousands of drivers in extreme conditions on the Coquihalla Highway during his decades of service in the 1,200-metre-high pass.

Since the implementation of snowshed protocol and the start of the TV program, in 2012, the Coquihalla has seen a steady decline in accidents causing fatalities.

“This year in our highway division — from Shylock Road to Cold Water Road — we’re still at zero fatalities – which is terrific,” Quiring lauded as the season wrapped up.

The family company began leasing the truck Al uses to tow in 2007, and purchased it in 2017. The 85-ton wrecker is equipped with 630-horsepower and an 18-speed transmission.

“I prefer this truck because it’s what they call a pre-emission truck. After 2007 the emissions got really stringent on motors, catalytic converters, and diesel exhausts,” Al explained, pointing to electrical issues he witnesses newer semi-trailers and trucks face up on the highway.

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Mental toll of being a first responder

The tow trucker said he has witnessed his fair share of car crash victims on the highway, and admitted it definitely takes its toll on first responders, such as himself.

“Up there on a divided highway 9-1-1 doesn’t really do much,” Quiring said, emphasizing that during storms, towing operators are often the first responders to crashes.

“When the fire department or the police deals with the aftermath of car wrecks they get to take a week or two off,” Quiring said.

“For us towers, it’s ‘get this mess cleaned up, traffic’s gonna be rolling again and get ready for the next one,’’ he said with teary eyes.

Quiring spoke about his struggle with PTSD in a recent video for the Bell Let’s Talk Canadian initiative to combat the stigma surrounding mental illness.

READ MORE: A close up look at tragedy

Putting Aldergrove on the Map

Though the Highway Thru Hell television series had an unintentional beginning, it has made Aldergrove a go-to place for fans.

“The show came out of chance when Neil Thomas — the head producer of the program — happened to have his car breakdown on the Coquihalla,” Quiring explained.

Thomas was eventually towed by Quiring’s co-star Adam Gazzola, an employee of Jamie Davis Towing at the time.

All these years later, the show is preparing to enter it’s eighth season, and Quiring enjoys being part of it and showing the world what they do.

“We have people from all over the globe come to Aldergrove to our little office here to get T-shirts and hats,” Quiring said, listing visitors from various far-off countries.

“If you turn on any Highway Thru Hell episode and watch through the credits at the end, you’ll see a little one-liner: ‘Thanks to the people of Aldergrove’,” Quiring noted proudly.

“I was the one who asked for that.”

The program now airs in more than 400 different languages and 180 countries around the world, on various TV channels including the Discovery Channel, National Geographic and The Weather Network.

The newest episodes are set for release this fall.

 

The two truckers 24-year-old son Cary, who is also featured on the TV show, is poised to take over the family business. (Sarah Grochowski photo)

The recovery expert bought his current truck in 2007. The 50-ton wrecker is equipped with 630-horsepower and an 18-speed transmission. (Sarah Grochowski photo)

Leftover vehicles from accidents, belonging to ICBC, remain securely held on the company lot. Other wrecked trucks that are visible belong to a company based out of Portland, Oregon. (Sarah Grochowski photo)

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