Expanding into the Sewer Inspection Market

Hurricane Hydrovac has found acquisition to be a beneficial way of diversifying its service offerings

Expanding into the Sewer Inspection Market

Interested in Inspection?

Get Inspection articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Inspection + Get Alerts

To expand its geographic footprint as well as add a valuable service increasingly requested by customers, Ontario-based Hurricane Hydrovac purchased Sewer Maintenance Services.

As implied by its name, SMS — which was renamed Hurricane Sewer Maintenance Services to reflect the Hurricane Hydrovac brand — provides sewer maintenance and inspection services. Hurricane Hydrovac already did sewer cleaning, but not inspections, which left a hole in its service offerings, says Shawn O’Keefe, co-owner of the company.

“We wanted to get into camera work for sewers and SMS had been doing it for many years,” O’Keefe says. “The owner was getting close to retirement age, so we approached him to see if he was interested in selling the business.

“It made sense because it goes together with things we already were doing. We also wanted to expand into the London market, but we knew we’d have to offer camera service because customers there want both services. So not having CCTV service was a barrier to entry in the London market.”

Why didn’t Hurricane Hydrovac just start its own company or invest in inspection cameras? The answer is simple: Acquiring a company provides an established customer base, not to mention a wealth of institutional knowledge provided by employees, as well as the former owner, who stayed on board for about 1 1/2 years to ease the ownership transition, O’Keefe says.

The purchase of SMS also provides built-in opportunities to cross-market its services to Hurricane Hydrovac customers and vice versa.

“Hurricane Hydrovac still does quite a bit of flushing (sewer cleaning) for municipalities,” O’Keefe says. “When those customers need video, we send them to SMS. It helps because if someone calls for that kind of work, they know we specialize in it, not just dabble in it.”

To serve customers, the company owns four camera trucks outfitted with IBAK inspection camera systems, and four Vactor 2100 combination sewer trucks with Kenworth and Western Star chassis. The trucks are equipped with debris tanks ranging from 12 to 15 cubic yards and blowers made by Roots (a brand owned by the Howden Group) or two-stage fans made by Vactor.

About half of the company’s clients throughout southwestern Ontario are contractors that install sewers and need to provide inspection videos to show they were installed correctly; the rest are municipalities that use the company for emergency work or to perform scheduled maintenance on a contract basis, O’Keefe says.

An emergency job a few years ago in Windsor exemplified the company’s capabilities. A roofing company accidentally spilled about 150 gallons of hot tar that drained into a catch basin, then traveled into a sewer main.

“Nobody thought anything of it at the time,” says Justin Hayes, general manager of Hurricane SMS. “And nobody said anything about it, either — until a homeowner reported a sewage backup.”

The main problem was a 2- to 3-foot-long plug of solidified tar in roughly 15-by-20-inch-diameter, egg-shaped brick combination storm and sanitary sewer. Workers broke through the plug, but when they pulled back the nozzle, the hole kept collapsing in on itself. 

The crew switched from hot water, which they figured would melt the tar (but it didn’t) to cold water, which made the tar more brittle and easier to break up. In addition, the company brought in a water truck to ensure a continuous water supply for the Vactor 2100 combination sewer truck they were using to flush the line. Using a Warthog nozzle from StoneAge, workers finally were able to break up the tar plug.

“We flushed for eight hours straight, hammering back and forth,” Hayes says. “We also pulled out about a 10-foot-long slug of tar that had settled on the bottom of the sewer line, like a big snake, plus some smaller chunks.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, this job was probably an 8. We were there until about 3 a.m. the next day. But honestly, I love jobs like that — challenging jobs that are out of the ordinary and where our equipment, our guys and our experience all come into play. Situations like that are what make work fun.”

Read more about Hurricane Hydrovac in the November 2022 issue of Cleaner magazine.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.