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The answer to the question in the headline, in most cases, is no one. It's ironic that the fire service of this country is responsible for public safety and yet when government passes regulations to provide highway and vehicle safety, the fire service runs to government for exemptions from the very regulations put in place for everybody's safety, firefighters and the public alike.
If you don't think we are unsafe, read any of the industry publications and you will see. It has been written that if the fire service of this country were a private corporation, we would be put out of business. Why? Because our death rate, injury rate and loss record are so great. Sad, but true. For many years, there were groups within the fire service voicing safety concerns, most notably the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC).
In many sectors the safety concerns voiced were ignored, so the federal government stepped in and created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Many states have adopted OSHA regulations and imposed them on the fire service. Why? Because we in the fire service had an inability to police ourselves. Fire service injury and death rates were skyrocketing; the fire service was made aware of the facts but very little, if anything, was done to address these important safety issues. It was my experience that when OSHA was finally adopted in my state, many fire departments were compliant or almost compliant. However, there are some departments that would still be buying orange rubber gloves and rubber raincoats for interior structural firefighting if they could get away with it.
At least four driving-related regulations imposed by the federal or state governments were opposed by some in the fire service, who rushed out to seek exemptions.
The first regulation was the Commercial Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, enacted to provide highway safety and bar unsafe trucks and unsafe drivers. The fire service could not rush out fast enough to seek exemptions from this safety act. The reasons noted were for the financial and the administrative burdens it would have placed on fire departments, especially volunteers.
Administration of commercial driving license (CDL) programs is handled by each state's department of motor vehicles, so that's a moot point. But what about the financial burden that would be placed on the fire departments? With 90 percent of the fire protection for this country being provided by volunteers, saving billions of dollars a year on taxes, it seems the least each state could do is to provide no-cost CDLs to fire apparatus drivers. When I mentioned this at an emergency vehicle operations class, one of my students took exemption. He happened to be a professional truck driver and he was right. He said, "Why should fire apparatus operators take a road test on a fire truck and then be allowed to drive anything in that class?" The answer is simple, and already adopted by some states. The idea is to have a CDL with a fire apparatus endorsement. It would be no different than an air brake or a hazardous materials endorsement.
What does this mean for the fire service? Instead of exempting ourselves from vehicle safety, we have met the same minimum standards as any other commercial vehicle operator on the road. We have also proven to an independent third party that we are competent at what we do. What is the alternative?
In Pennsylvania, a fire chief can grant a certificate of authorization for a firefighter to drive fire apparatus without a CDL. We must then ask, who is the fire chief and what are his or her credentials? Does the fire chief have a commercial vehicle background, driven commercial vehicles before, have any understanding of the mechanics of a heavy truck or satisfactorily completed an emergency vehicle operator's course? Those questions all need to be answered.