Go figure. At some point in 2005, the New York Legislature aligned a series of Vehicle and Traffic Laws with federal specifications to assure continuance of federal highway and traffic safety monies. Somehow, somewhere, things went awry. Curiously, the faux paux went pretty much unnoticed by the group most affected: the Fire Service. Until several weeks ago. That was when the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs pointed out that it became illegal in 2006 to drive most fire apparatus under non-emergency conditions without a Commercial Drivers License (CDL). And oooh, the hoopala, the finger pointing, the indignation.
No doubt the "error" will be remedied. Legislatively, most certainly. Put things back the way they were. Whose crazy misinterpretation was this anyway? Obviously moronic. But is it? Some might say no.
What truly is ludicrous is that a state government, arguably one of the most top heavy in the nation, could somehow overlook a detail like consulting with the Fire Service before they changed a law with such significant impact. Even more amazing is that not one fire service organization, union, association, department, or local noticed. Out of touch? Seems like it. But then, Congress wiped out fire and EMS protections in the Ryan White Law a couple years ago without telling anyone. And no one noticed that until that deed was done, either.
Back to the CDL thing. Bad idea? Maybe not. I took a little inventory of my small upstate New York volunteer fire department. Most of our members actually have a CDL. And if you ask any of them if a CDL helps make you a safer chauffeur, they'll think for a minute and say it probably does. For my part, having learned all about air brakes, truck transmissions, diesel engines, and everything else that came with my CDL some thirty years ago seems to give me better command of any fire apparatus I operate. Now of course, ask any member without a CDL whether having one would make them a better chauffeur, and they'll typically think not.
In most states, you can drive a 48 foot motor home with nothing more than a regular drivers license. So why not a fire truck? Indeed. That's the way it's always been.