In light of a 2005 law that prohibits emergency responders from driving back from an emergency without a commercial driver’s license, Colonie public officials from other departments are stepping forward to talk about the state regulation.
Colonie Police Chief Steven Heider said the law has created a problem not only for the fire departments in the state.
The whole state is in a tenuous position, Heider said. `Because technically, they shouldn’t be driving without a license.`
According to Heider, fire responders are involved with the trucks even from the beginning of their training and, technically, they should not even be operating the truck while training without a commercial driver’s license, as the state law suggests.
`If push came to shove,` Heider said, `If they were involved in an accident or something, we may have to issue them a ticket for it.`
According to Fuller Road Fire Department Chief Kevin Terry, the state law was signed as a measure to maintain eligibility for federal grant money designated for the use of commercial vehicles. Terry said the state eliminated part of the pre-existing law that made fire trucks non-commercial vehicles, authorizing their use to be driven to an emergency, but not from one, without a commercial driver’s license.
While the law encourages fire truck operators to get their commercial driver’s licenses, Terry said doing so is a time-intensive project that can cost up to $500 per license and take up to six months to receive.
Many of those who would need to obtain the licenses are volunteers who are not full-time employees of the fire departments, he said. Another problem, Terry said, is that the licenses need to be routinely renewed, the costs of which increases with time.
Heider said the police department has no intention of seeking out fire departments to issue tickets to, and the accident rate of fire trucks is exceptionally low in the Town of Colonie, however, the situation is possible, and police would have to respond by following the law.
What the 2005 state law does not do, Heider said, is create a problem for police officers operating vehicles without commercial driver’s licenses.
Still, fire departments across the state are trying to come up with a way to comply with the law as best they can, without forcing all operators to get their commercial driver’s licenses.
Terry said at Fuller Road, one method they are using is to remain `in service` until returning back to the fire department from an emergency.
Heider said the fire departments should not take measures to avoid obtaining a commercial driver’s license, and should work to come up with ways to have all their operators obtain them instead.
`I think at the end of the day, just for everybody’s administrative sake, it probably would be beneficial if they all had CDLs,` he said. `The fact that you have a CDL doesn’t make you a safer driver, it means that you’re well trained.`
While legislators at the county level are currently working to draft legislation to curb the law, allowing drivers to operate the vehicles without commercial driver’s licenses, other government officials, particularly at the town levels, are pointing the blame at the state for this issue even surfacing.
`Attracting and retaining volunteers is difficult enough, and to add this layer of bureaucracy on top will only make it more challenging,` Colonie Town Supervisor Paula Mahan said. `It seems our firefighters are permitted to drive under the stress and pressure created by an emergency response, that it only makes sense to allow them to return the equipment they used in the response to the emergency.`
Mahan said she is hopeful that `common sense will prevail with regards to this issue,` and that the state can amend the law to help the needs of the firefighters in emergency situations.“