Have you ever had a breakdown, a flat battery, a punctured tyre, or locked your keys in the car? Chances are, Paul Burke or one of his team mates from the local NRMA Road Assist crew have helped you get back up and running.
The NRMA Road Service Patrolman really enjoys “life on the road” after years working as a mechanic at multi-franchise dealerships.
A natural problem-solver, Paul also enjoys meeting people from all walks of life. Generally, people are very gracious when Paul manages to fix their problem and turn their initial anxiety into a smile.
“Some time back, a P Plater and I were on a first name basis after his third lockout in a day. At the other end of the spectrum, some people have been NRMA members for more than 60 years and rarely used the service. They’ll often apologise for calling.”
Paul is part of a core group of three full-time patrolmen, tow truck operator and relief staff employed by Trotters Auto Group who sub-contract the NRMA road service franchise in Port Macquarie.
“We do our best to mobilise every vehicle we come across. You get to know common model-specific faults and remedies, but there is still the odd ‘headscratcher’. Especially when we can be working on cars, trucks, motorbikes or even mobility scooters!”
The most common issues involve battery problems, and then there’s the occasional quick response required to rescue an animal or child locked inside a car.
“A few years ago I was on shift at 2am and received a call from the tow truck operator. He asked me to bring my wetsuit. I met him at Fernbank Creek Boat Ramp, was handed a tow cable and asked to swim out and hook up a submerged boat trailer with a Falcon attached. Only the roof of the car was visible. I’m not sure that particular task was in my job description!”
Paul often goes above and beyond. While working away under the bonnet, he’ll take the chance to educate drivers on the importance of in-between service maintenance checks such as oil, coolant levels and spare tyre pressure.
As well as having broad mechanical skills, Paul relies on good communication and time management skills. He can minimise wasted diagnosis time by being a good listener. “Often a client will mention some small thing about a vehicle’s history and that can point straight to the source of the problem.”
It can be hard to keep up with the jobs, especially as numbers can fluctuate wildly at times. These days NRMA members receive a text or call with the expected arrival tim, which helps. The Port Macquarie crew cover the highway and other out of town areas too. “Those highway jobs in the middle of the night, especially in the rain, can be nerve-wracking.”
Paul has really embraced the job, the shift work and the rotating roster. It gives him time to put down the tools and pick up his surfboard, fishing rod or drum sticks, and spend time with his family.
6:50am – Check van supplies, oil, water, batteries. Pick up leftover jobs from previous shift.
7:00am – Jobs drop down onto screen via the Sydney call centre, and we’re away!
9:00am – Fielding calls from around town. Cruising along nicely, helping people with common problems like jump-starting flat batteries.
11:00am – Blind-sided by an influx of highway breakdowns and a few out of town jobs. Need to work fast to keep up.
12:00pm – No lunch break for me today. Too busy. Keep responding to call outs.
1:00pm – Change a flat tyre, help someone who’s locked out of their car, and organise a tow for a client whose vehicle needs more serious repairs.
3:00pm – Chat with the next patrolman on shift to relay information and share experiences. Knock off time! Surf looks good.
This column was from issue 117 of Greater Port Macquarie Focus.