Sunday, February 8, 2009

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A New York Oops

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.

Mike McEvoy
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  1. NH has the same law, CDL exempt under emergency operations only.

  2. "Most of our members actually have a CDL." Mike- are all your members bus drivers for the local school district? How is it that "Most of our members actually have a CDL." Not because your fire dept required it. I think that while your statement may be true for your dept- it is definitely an analomy

  3. The State of Delaware was faced with this issue many years ago. The overwhelming majority of the state is protected by volunteer fire companies. The state's motor vehicle division worked out a solution where those volunteer firefighters who drive apparatus get a special "non-CDL" license, which specifically grants them the ability to drive fire or emergency apparatus but not other commercial vehicles.

  4. CDL licended drivers are not better drivers just because of the CDL on their license. CDL drivers are required to take additional medical exams that could disqualify some of the regular licensed drivers. Also a CDL licensed driver cannot have any alcohol in their system or the consequences are extremely severe, even if they are driving a non CDL licensed vehicle at the time of an offense. Then there is the additional cost of the renewal of a CDL license. I am sure that all of these additional issues will make it much easier to recruit new volunteers to the volunteer fire service. I am a CDL driver for over 30 years and would rather have some of the wonderful volunteers in my company driving emergency vehicles instead of some of the "CDL" drivers on the road today. Most volunteer fire companies that I am aware of have better oversight of their drivers than some commercial companies.

  5. This is the stupidest thing i had ever heard of all you people in support of this must be crazy or stupid or even blind they are trying to do away with volunteer fire departments and have been for years do you have any idea what it would coast me to send 25 of my drivers to get CDL's it just a scam fore more income to nys we have been teaching our drivers how to drive for problems here... in fact most of my drivers are better than the instructors CHIEF UPSTATE NY

  6. Always some red tape to make something so logical happen.


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