WELLFLEET — Barbara Jacobs is demanding a refund of $256 after members of the Wellfleet Fire Dept. ordered Silver Cloud Towing to take away her disabled car rather than the AAA-authorized towing service she had arranged.
Chief Richard Pauley has refused her written request, saying the tow had to be done quickly because her car, which had sprung a gas leak, presented a public safety hazard.
“It’s not about the money,” said Jacobs, who lives in Provincetown and Arvada, Colo. “It’s about the way I was treated.”
On July 28, a Sunday, Jacobs went to the Wellfleet Flea Market and was driving her 2011 Kia Soul home on Route 6 when other motorists began signaling her to pull over. She pulled into the plaza that includes the Dunkin’ doughnuts shop, where she discovered gas pouring from her car.
She dialed 911. A call firefighter, later identified as Lt. William Grozier, arrived in his business vehicle and Lt. Mary Lou Wood came in a fire truck.
The car could not be driven, so Grozier suggested that Jacobs call AAA, Jacobs said. After explaining her predicament, the AAA dispatcher told her someone was on the way, and that she could get a ride in the tow truck. It would take her to her mechanic in Provincetown. The total charge would be $44, Jacobs said, and they would be there within an hour.
Her plan quickly unraveled, however, when Wood informed her that Silver Cloud Towing had been called and that she would not be allowed to ride in the tow truck. Moreover, the driver would be taking her car to Orleans, not Provincetown, Jacobs said.
When Silver Cloud arrived the driver loaded her car onto the tow truck “over my objections,” Jacobs said. Jacobs argued with the firefighters and driver for about 20 minutes. To prevent the tow truck from leaving she stood in front of it “with my arms raised like I was at Tiananmen Square,” Jacobs told the Independent.
“I asked why the fire people had made other arrangements without asking or telling me after I’d made the arrangements they had suggested,” she wrote in her letter to Pauley. “The only answer was Silver Cloud could come faster.”
Finally the firefighters called the police, she said.
Police Chief Ronald Fisette said Det. Geraldine LaPense was able to smooth things over a bit by arranging for the Silver Cloud driver to take Jacobs to Provincetown rather than Orleans. The charge would be $295 payable in cash up front. Jacobs also incurred a $5 ATM fee getting the cash.
On July 30 Jacobs wrote to Pauley, explaining what happened and asking for a refund of the tow charge minus the $44. She also emailed a copy to the Wellfleet Select Board. She got no response from anyone, she said.
Pauley told the Independent that he never received her letter. As he recalled the incident, gas was pouring out of her car to the point where “we were using buckets.” Gas leaks are extremely serious and only tow companies that have certain equipment are qualified to tow the vehicle, Pauley said. Also it had to be done quickly rather than wait for AAA which can take more than an hour to arrive in July.
But Jacobs said the gas had fully leaked out by the time the firefighters arrived. (She said her tank had ruptured and needed to be replaced, a $2,000 repair.) The firefighters never used buckets but they did put sand on the spilled gas, Jacobs added. Furthermore, she asked, why would Grozier advise her to call AAA in the first place if this were such an emergency?
Jacobs asked if Silver Cloud enjoyed a preferential relationship with Wellfleet emergency services.
There are no tow contracts with local police, explained Fisette. But Silver Cloud and the Tinknocker are both on the Wellfleet Police Dept.’s tow list. This is not a written contract but a verbal agreement, which specifies that these two companies will be called to tow disabled or impounded vehicles from crash scenes or following arrests, said Fisette. That is how it works with most Cape tows, claimed Rich Quirk, the manager of Silver Cloud.
If a car is not a safety hazard as the result of a breakdown, owners can make their own arrangements, Fisette said.
Quirk said they request cash up front because people are not usually happy to have their cars towed and have written bad checks and disputed credit card charges.
As for refusing to take Jacobs to Provincetown, Quirk said that’s not the way they operate.
“Not being there that day I’m not sure what happened,” Quirk said. “But we always try to work with people.”
Once they are called, however, they need to be compensated, he added.
Pauley said he empathizes with Jacobs but “we just follow a protocol … The town of Wellfleet won’t reimburse her for her towing costs.”
Fisette offered to write her a letter, which she can send to AAA and perhaps get the $44 reimbursed.
“It’s very disillusioning,” said Jacobs. “I know they [the fire dept.] do good work. But instead of being helpful they were the opposite.”