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Headlights On. . .

Incident response is a matter of minutes. One minute of travel lane blockage may result in several minutes of traffic congestion. One to four minutes are all one has for CPR to be most effective. Sixty minutes to save a life.

Headlights On . . . Paul Ponzio

Company: Samaritania, Inc.
Position/Title: President and CEO

What is Samaritania?

Samaritania Incorporated’s primary business is to provide turnkey Service Patrol programs for departments of transportation and private sector companies. We do provide quite a bit of safety education programs to communities around the country, support special events, and provide Service Patrol specific AVL/GPS software as well.

In what ways has Samaritania improved incident response?

Incident response is a matter of minutes. One minute of travel lane blockage may result in several minutes of traffic congestion. One to four minutes are all one has for CPR to be most effective. Sixty minutes to save a life.

I think incident response, or perhaps as important, incident resolution, is a matter of competence and teamwork. A roving service vehicle staffed by a highly trained Service Patrol operator outfitted with the proper equipment is an effective way to minimize incident clearance times thereby, improving overall incident response.

Back in the early 1980’s we as a company decided to take a public safety approach to responding and clearing freeway incidents. Often, after our patrol shifts were over, a group of us would get together and talk about our day and the incidents that occurred. As we compared experiences, it became clear that the types of incidents that occurred were often the same and if we could match our training to the type of incident we would be more effective at not just clearing incidents but resolving incidents to the satisfaction of the motorists and patrolling authorities.

How did you get involved with the company?

Back in 1982 I started working for the company on a part-time basis to help with college expenses. At that time, Service Patrols were quite rare and Samaritania, Inc. was the only one I knew of that utilized EMT’s or Paramedics to help folks on the road. It was really amazing to see how much of an impact this work had on people’s daily lives and how it reduced the workload of patrolling authorities. One minute we could be jump-starting a car. The next incident we might be applying CPR! I got to travel throughout the country filling-in for other patrol operators in the company. I worked up to General Manager and eventually was in the position to buy the company in 1998. The helping people concept is addictive and clearly made an instant difference in many people’s lives and it felt great to be a part of this new field of transportation.

What were your early aspirations/career goals that led to your current role as President and CEO of Samaritania?

I probably just outlasted the rest of the folks trying to excel in the company. No, seriously, it wasn’t a planned goal to continue to work in the incident management field, but I could recognize the value of the service we were providing and thought the potential for future expansion of Service Patrols was realistic.

How has your previous work in the transportation field influenced the Samaritania program?

Most of my work experiences and formal training was in the automotive industry and public safety fields. Skills obtained during these pre-incident management years were of great help, particularly when the time came for service vehicle innovation and operator training standardization. So I guess service vehicle design, engineering, auto technician development, EMS training, etc., had a major influence on the overall service we provide today.

Can you describe Samaritania’s business model?

Our goal is to create value for departments of transportation, patrolling authorities and the motoring public. Each of these “roadway” stakeholders from their perspective, have different needs yet all of these needs are very related. We attempt to target and meet each of the stakeholders needs simultaneously through innovation and expertise. The cost structure to address each of the stakeholder’s needs remains market competitive through volume advantages and technological implementation. Developing mechanisms to clear incidents faster, taking some of the load of patrolling authorities so they can focus on more important tasks and helping motorists get where there going with minimum delay are included in our business operational strategy as well.

In what states does Samaritania not operate?

The nine states we currently operate in would be a shorter list. We operate in the District of Columbia/Northern Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

In which states does Samaritania operate under a public sector contract?

We operate under public sector contracts in the states of Nevada, Kentucky and Ohio.

In which states does it operate pursuant to a private sector contract?

We operate pursuant to private sector contracts in the District of Columbia/Northern Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

Also, in some states, we operate public and private sector Service Patrol programs alongside programs operated by other Departments of Transportation contractors or we may be operating both a public sector program and a private sector program simultaneously.

What are the benefits to the state to use Samaritania’s services versus state operated services?

Samaritania began patrolling the Massachusetts roadways in January 1978. During the blizzard of 1978 to be specific. So there is a boatload of Service Patrol operational and management experience behind Samaritania that is of great value to states with existing Service Patrols or those choosing to implement a “best practices” Service Patrol.

As our company grows and recommendations are needed, we have been very fortunate that every State Police or Highway Patrol Authority where we operate has provided written letters of recommendation.

Another benefit might be that our service vehicles contain a wider variety of patrol supplies and equipment to help clear incidents quicker and are outfitted with AVL/GPS incident reporting systems operating in real time.

The incident management-training program for vehicle operators is pretty intense. I think it is the only program that requires operators to hold EMT or Paramedic certification, Firefighter certification, National Auto Service Excellence certification, and National Animal Control Officer certification simultaneously.

State Departments of Transportation also receive the benefit of standardized patrol operating procedures tailored to meet local patrolling authority and the states’ incident response needs.

Our cost per patrol hour is typically less than most state operated or contracted Service Patrol programs.

What services does the Samaritania program provide?

We provide a turnkey Service Patrol program that meets the needs of patrolling authorities, departments of transportation, motorists, and the general public.

So in addition to providing basic incident response needs such as traffic control and towing arrangements, we are able to provide the following patrol services:

  • Quick temporary repair of disabled vehicles.
  • Motor vehicle accidents resolution.
  • Unattended vehicle resolution.
  • Remove debris from roadway.
  • Re-direct lost motorists.
  • EMT level medical assistance.
  • Contain minor HazMat spills.
  • Fire suppression needs.
  • Animal Rescue.
  • Un-lock locked vehicles.
  • Secure un-secured loads.
  • Transport pedestrians off roadway.

What are the qualities you look for when hiring drivers?

Operator candidates for our programs need to be friendly, bright, public safety oriented folks capable of meeting our training requirements and dedicated to helping people. Most are hired with substantial automotive experience then obtain the additional public safety and incident management skills through our training program. Of course, squeaky-clean backgrounds and a professional clean-cut appearance are pre-requisites for candidates too.

What type of training do the Samaritania drivers undergo?

Automotive Technician, EMT level medical, Fire suppression, Animal control, Traffic control basically and overall incident management training.

Do Samaritania drivers train and work with other incident responders?

Yes, very well in fact. Since Samaritania operators hold many of the same certifications as those responding to freeway incidents such as EMT’S, Firefighters, and animal control officers they receive similar respect and cooperation.

What types of changes and improvements have you made to Samaritania over the years to ensure safety remains the first priority on America’s highways?

Safety of our operators and those folks around our operators are of paramount importance.

Service vehicle selection is a key safety factor for us. We only utilize vehicles that allow our operators to exit the vehicle on the non-traffic side of the roadway (typically the passenger side of the vehicle).

Our training program is built around public safety certifications because that type and level of professional training offers substantial safety benefits.

The patrol standard operating procedures we deploy have been honed and polished over the thirty-three years we have been operating. Mistakes are made over the years, but I think we learned from them and updated our operating procedures accordingly.

So overall, service vehicle design, patrol equipment, operating procedures and our training program are how we address personal and public safety.

Seems to be working. Samaritania hasn’t had any operator injured working the roadway because of an internal safety procedure situation in all these years.

What changes do you envision over the next ten years for Samaritania specifically and for the Safety Service Patrol industry in general?

Tough question given the unpredictable political climate. All things being equal, I do think Freeway Service Patrols will eventually become more standardized in terms of service delivery among the states. Also, as Service Patrols become more widely known expectations by motorists may also increase. One thing for sure, Service Patrols right now are similar in standardized operation as fire and medical public safety agencies were thirty or forty years ago. I expect corporate sponsorship of these programs will increase and become the norm for state operated patrols. Of course, the expanded use of electric vehicles will force changes in both operator training and service vehicle selection.

Please share an anecdote of a great assist or tale of a driver that went “above and beyond” the call of duty.

One of our operators on a routine patrol pulled behind a vehicle stopped in the breakdown lane. One male and female in the vehicle. Female in process of having a baby. Our operator, a spanking brand new State Certified EMT, got assistance on the way and proceeded to work the delivery until Fire/Rescue arrived to take over the incident. The baby was fine, healthy and delivered on the roadside.

Our Las Vegas Service Patrol program always generates stories. Motorists costumed as impersonators (think Elvis, Marilyn Monroe) stuck along the roadside. Trucks transporting circus animals to hotels (think chimpanzees, very big snakes, tigers, and bears) do breakdown in the 110-degree heat. Folks festively dressed for singing telegrams delivery also make for interesting incident conversation.

Can you name three examples of “best practices” you picked up over the years from other Safety Service Patrol operators, both public and private?

Respectfully, not really, but the future remains bright and optimistic.

What have you found to be the best forum for sharing information with your counterparts in other regions?

Intranets are effective for sharing information so members and guests receive relevant information and e-newsletters are also great for staying informed.

What is the one attribute that sets Samaritania apart from its competitors?

Consistent professionalism that meets the needs of those stakeholders dependent on the services we provide.

What would you like to know about other state’s Safety Service Patrols?

We try to keep on top of other state’s Service Patrols during our travels to other states, reading other Service Patrol newsletters and on the web.

Back to Safe Highway Matters: Summer 2011

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