Bill To Exempt Firefighters from Needing Commercial Driver Licenses before Governor

May 20, 2009

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger announced that the Assembly passed legislation last night he co-sponsored that will allow firefighters without commercial driver licenses (CDLs) to carry out non-emergency official duties and activities that are related to emergency governmental functions involving fire vehicles. The legislation (A.6051-A) is designed to further rectify a controversial state law that forbade trained firefighters without CDLs from driving trucks in any capacity apart from responding to an emergency.

“The current situation has hindered firefighters in their training and in carrying out official, non-emergency duties, such as safety inspections and parades,” Assemblyman Schimminger said. “There’s more to a firefighter’s job than just answering emergency calls. They’re highly visible, active members of our communities, and it’s important that they be able to drive trucks without fear of penalty. This legislation will give firefighters the freedom to participate in the entire range of their duties so they can better do their jobs and better serve the community.

“I’m pushing to have this legislation signed into law in time for Memorial Day Weekend parades so fire departments can fully participate in honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation,” Schimminger added. “It was unfortunate to see so many fire departments uncertain about sidelining their vehicles for parades because of a law that caused unintended hardship.”

This year’s state budget contained a provision that corrected a technicality in the law that permitted first responders with a valid class-D driver license to legally drive an emergency vehicle to the scene of an emergency but required only those with a CDL to drive the truck back to the fire house. However, the correction in the law did not permit firefighters without a CDL to drive the apparatus in parades, training exercises or non-emergency situations.

Schimminger said this new legislation takes the budget amendment a step further to allow emergency workers to carry out all aspects of their jobs without incurring the expense or inconvenience of securing a CDL. Under the legislation, non-CDL drivers would be able to freely participate in training exercises, funerals, hydrant maintenance and commercial building inspections.

The legislation would also keep New York in conformity with federal regulations promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which grants states discretion in exempting firefighters and operators of other emergency motor vehicles. By staying in conformance with the federal regulations, the state would preserve approximately $31 million in federal highway aid.

The bill was passed by the Senate today and now goes to the Governor, who is expected to sign it into law in time for the holiday weekend.