State may lift license restrictions on firefighters

Firefighting companies across the state gained some peace of mind this week as a bill that would reverse the state's decision to limit driving of the trucks to those who possess commercial drivers licenses passed in both the state Senate and Assembly.

The current law, which was adopted in 2005, allowed those who did not have a commercial driver's license (or CDL) to drive a vehicle exceeding 26,000 pounds only to an emergency but not back from it. It also did not allow firefighters who did not have the CDL to train on the fire apparatus.

While the solution to require all firefighters driving the trucks to obtain CDLs was one of the options, fire companies argued that the process was both lengthy and costly.

According to Jerry Paris, first deputy fire coordinator for the Town of Colonie, the training associated with obtaining the license can take anywhere from eight to 16 hours (typically in one central location, requiring those obtaining them to travel) and can cost anywhere from $600 to $1,200, depending on how many endorsements a driver has. The endorsements, Paris said, are given based on specifications of training for particular vehicles the person obtaining the license can drive.

The bigger the vehicle, the more endorsements you have, said Paris. "The more money it costs."

The CDL also has to be renewed every one to two years, requiring a physical with every renewal.

The bill is now awaiting Gov. David Paterson's signature. Paris said he hopes the governor will sign it before the conclusion of this legislative session at the end of June.

The CDL issue sparked statewide attention this year after an incident in Long Island brought liability questions to light regarding incidents that could happen when someone who does not have a CDL drives the fire apparatus, Paris said. While the law originally stated that all firefighters driving the trucks needed to have a CDL, in 2005 the law was changed allowing the firemen to drive to emergencies without them.

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