Hydroexcavation contractor establishes strong market position by specializing in emergency service and solving customers’ problems.
Barry Wood has seen his company evolve since it was started nearly two decades ago. One thing has never changed — being available at a moment’s notice in any emergency.
“We are trusted and renowned for exceptional responsiveness to our customers’ needs,” says Wood, CEO for Ontario Excavac, offering hydroexcavation and other services from its home base in Mississauga, Ontario. “Our growth has been propelled by a hard-earned reputation for the desire to fulfill customer needs 24/7 and 365 days a year.”
Crews have found themselves at local airports, construction sites, houses and industrial sites handling emergencies at all hours of the day and night.
“Our responsiveness sets us apart from everyone else,” Wood says.
The company, founded in 1996, pioneered the use of hydroexcavation to do keyhole repairs from above ground on water curb stops in the Greater Toronto Area, but has since grown significantly into hydroexcavation, subsurface utility engineering, debris removal and daylighting services. Customized equipment, including hydroexcavators that are quieter and use larger blowers to extend their reach, have augmented the company’s capabilities.
More than anything else, eagerness to respond has helped Ontario Excavac establish its strong market position. An emergency at the Toronto Pearson International Airport illustrates the point.
Operations manager Brett Tye received an emergency call at 1 a.m. from the airport’s maintenance manager. A water main had broken under the road in the tunnel where the luggage conveyors run.
“The conveyor area was very tight and the airport staff could not use a backhoe to dig to the main because of height clearance,” Tye says. Upon inspecting the site he found that the tunnel was only 12 feet tall.
Tye dispatched a driver to bring the company’s shortest hydroexcavator to the site — it stands 11 feet, 8 inches high. The truck arrived by 4 a.m.
“We squeezed it into the tunnel,” Tye says, but the limited clearance didn’t allow them to use the truck’s boom. The crew used the hydrovac hose by hand to dig to the water main and was able to complete the job by the middle of the day. They removed four loads of water and debris, allowing a general contractor to repair the break.
A wide array of hydroexcavators help the company respond quickly to customer needs. There are 28 hydroexcavators in its fleet — mainly from Transway Systems and Vactor Manufacturing, but also some older-model Presvac Systems and Supervac 2000 units in the mix.
“We like the Transway trucks because we can customize them — we do a lot of customization on those,” Wood says. “We buy Vactor, too, because it’s a well-known name. The trucks are reliable, and we’ve got a good distributor relationship here in the form of Joe Johnson Equipment.”
The company’s utility-locating jobs require the use of high-pressure water jets to break into the ground. The company uses specialized equipment for those jobs as well.
Unlike a number of hydroexcavation companies that use straight-tip high-pressure water jets, Ontario Excavac uses only rotating nozzle spinner-tips. The company has found that straight tips used at high-pressure can cause considerable damage around the dig site and slice through buried infrastructure.
“We’ve found that the rotation nozzle spinner tips are just far safer,” Wood says. “It’s also a requirement of the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) in Ontario.”
Unlike a straight tip, spinner tips rotate inside a small metal housing and shoot water out in a circular fashion. The water strikes hard but then brushes off, causing no damage to utility infrastructure.
The use of hydroexcavation, along with its own customers’ growth, helped Ontario Excavac grow its services. Taking on two large customers in the last eight years has also helped Ontario Excavac prosper.
The first of the two new major customers was Enbridge Gas, a major gas distributor in southern Ontario. “That has now developed into one of our largest customer relationship,” Wood says. “We’re doing locates for them and exposing infrastructure for repair and damage prevention.”
The other major customer is the City of Toronto, and its Toronto Water Division with the Water Meter Program. The program was launched five years ago to install new water meters in 475,000 homes and businesses in the city. The project is 97 percent complete with 460,000 meters installed to date.
“We go to properties where the water service valve is not working,” Wood says. “We’re called upon to shut the water off and fix the water service valve so the new meter can be installed.” The city also calls Ontario Excavac to perform emergency curb-stop repairs when required.
Ontario Excavac doesn’t stop at belowground work: The company has done clean-outs of elevator shafts, stormwater systems and conveyor assemblies at industrial plants and mining operations.
“We’re actually just completing a job for the Greater Toronto Airport Authority where we are cleaning out their stormwater control facilities,” Wood says. “They’ve got interceptors for hydrocarbons and things of that nature that spill.”
The company used hydroexcavators to reach belowground stormwater catchment facilities at the airport to clean out silt and similar debris.
Safety is a priority for Ontario Excavac. New employees receive extensive orientation and training before stepping foot into a hydroexcavator.
“The new employees will receive several days of orientation training,” Wood says. “There are eight or nine core areas that they’ll receive training on right off the bat.”
The company’s health and safety officer, Lori Robinson, conducts the orientations, but training doesn’t stop there. The company also holds regular rotations of training each quarter for all employees.
“We deal with emergencies more frequently than all of us would like to,” Wood says. “It’s important that our people are well trained and understand hazard assessment and hazard identification and understand what proper steps should be taken when they get to a site.”
With over 70 employees, Wood says his company has a wide scope of experience to help customers meet their excavation needs safely and reliably.
“Some of these people have been with the company from its inception or joined shortly after,” Wood says. “There is a wealth of accumulated knowledge and experience about hydroexcavation.”
Ontario Excavac isn’t done growing and is looking at different ways to diversify. Instead of subcontracting out restoration of soft and hard surfaces as in the past when doing curb-stop repair work, the company has brought some of that work in-house.
“We’re looking at areas where we can do more work in the holes we dig,” Wood says.
The company is also looking at expanding into sewer, water main and emergency water main work. Another field being looked at is repairing utility cross bores — the intersection of one underground utility by a second utility, most notably the hazardous condition when a natural gas line is cut through a sewer line.
Ontario Excavac is also considering growing organically, looking at acquisitions, according to Wood.
“The United States, for us, is certainly an area of interest and we may look at that in the future.”