After hearing for the first time about a 2005 law that restricts fire truck operators from driving back from an emergency without a commercial driver's license, fire departments across the state have changed their policies this week to conform to the law.
Albany County Legislator Carl Zeilman, R-Colonie, plans to introduce legislation to help resolve the issue that leaves the fire truck operators without a legal way to return to the fire house after an emergency.
As the New York law currently reads, the operator of a fire truck is permitted to operate a fire truck only in the instance of an emergency without a certified commercial driver's license.
According to Fuller Road Fire Department Chief Kevin Terry, the law was originally put in place to keep the state eligible for federal highway grant money. The law removed an exemption of fire trucks from the list of commercial vehicles, now stating that a fire truck is only not a commercial vehicle when it is engaged in an emergency situation.
They have interpreted that to mean, when you're responding to an alarm, it's an emergency situation, but as soon as the alarm is gone, said Terry, it is no longer an emergency.
While the Fuller Road Fire Department has not had any first-hand trouble, the implications of the law recently came to light in Suffolk County in the past month forcing fire departments to come up with a new way to complete their everyday functions in a way that conforms to the law.
At the Fuller Road Fire Department, Terry said, this meant having certain employees take on added duties and attempting to have certified drivers on staff as often as possible. It also meant requiring the fire trucks remain in service until returning to the fire department, as they will remain attached to the emergency they had just responded to until they return, removing the liability of driving without a commercial license when not involved in an emergency situation.