What's Required to Drive Fire Engines Legally and Safely (2024)

On Driving Big Fire Engines Safely and Legally
by Tom Forster
Originally published in Plumas News in March of 2012

Have you ever wondered what it takes to drive a big fire engine? What the training and licensing would be like? Fire engines are very heavy, and driving to emergencies with red lights and sirens requires special skills. The state has recently changed the firefighter licensing requirements through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Firefighters were previously required to meet Commercial Truck Driver licensing requirements. A Class C license is what most people have for cars and pickups, and is the most basic motor vehicle license. A Class B license generally covers two-axle trucks weighing over 26,000 pounds, and three-axle trucks. The Class A license generally covers almost everything bigger, including large tractor-trailers. Additional testing is required for Class A and B licenses in the form of written exams, medical exams, and driving tests.

In the recent past fire engine drivers, often called firefighter engineers, were required to have at least a Class B “Firefighter Restricted” license endorsem*nt. Unfortunately commercial driving course testing for this was not offered at the Quincy DMV office, or in most rural counties. This meant that Plumas County FD’s were required to work through the Quincy Fire Protection District (QFPD) commercial testing program, or complete driving testing in Redding or Sacramento. QFPD ran what was the only fire department “employer” commercial testing program around for many years, in part because of the complex program requirements. They had generously offered help to the other FD’s in the county with the licensing process.

“Without Quincy’s program we would have really been hurting, since taking a fire engine to Redding or Sacramento is a long haul and very expensive in terms of time and fuel”, said Plumas Eureka Chief Gary Castagnetti, Vice-President of the Plumas County Fire Chiefs Association (PCFCA). “While some of us have the Class A or B because of our jobs, most volunteer firefighters do not.”

PCFCA’s President and Graeagle Chief Ed Ward recently attended a one-day seminar held in Los Banos on the DMV changes for FD’s. The seminar was sponsored by the California State Firefighters Association (CSFA), and included representatives from the DMV and the California Highway Patrol (CHP.) “The biggest surprise for me was learning that there was no exemption for firefighters to drive an engine to an emergency, as we had all been told through word-of-mouth for many years”, said Ward. “We believed that it was OK to drive to a fire, but not back to the station after the emergency was over.We’d have to find a licensed driver to do that. CHP and DMV explained this supposed exemption was a myth, especially since emergency driving is even more dangerous than regular driving.”

The new requirements allow firefighters to drive all fire engines with a Class C license, but only after completing a forty-hour course, passing special firefighter written tests, and having a DMV-approved medical exam regularly. FD’s have a choice of using the forty-hour State Fire Training Driver Operator 1A course, or developing equivalent training in-house. Each student driver must also log fourteen hours of driving practice with an instructor.

Fire department instructors must have at least a commercial Class B license, and additional requirements will be established through the PCFCA as has been done in other counties. “In some ways the new program makes it easier, and in some ways it is harder,” said Castagnetti. “For example, we need to make sure we have enough firefighters who will maintain Class B (or A) licenses to serve as instructors. We also need to host the State Driver Operator 1A course regularly.”

Ward led a training class for other Plumas County FD’s in Quincy on March 19. He discussed the fact that there has been a long-time myth that it's OK for firefighters to drive an engine to an emergency without the properlicensing as long as they don't drive it back. There is no such provision in the law. We are confident we will be able to meet these new challenges by working together,” said Ward. “Our goal is to assure everyone’s safety including the public, and to have enough properly licensed drivers to respond to all emergencies in a timely manner.”

Slide show of photos from the 2016 DO1A Class, first weekend on May 20-22.

Plumas News"Inside The Fire House"
By Tom Forster
June 2, 2016

CFSTES Driver Operator 1A - Learning to Drive The Big Fire Engines

A 40-hour driver-training course for local firefighters is underway in Graeagle. Students from the fire departments of Quincy, Portola, Peninsula, Eastern Plumas, Beckwourth, Plumas Eureka, Long Valley, and Graeagle are participating.

The class is required by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), as part of qualifying for a Firefighter Endorsem*nt with a Class C Driver’s license. This allows the firefighter to drive heavy fire apparatus in both emergency and non-emergency situations. Driver Operator 1A is part of the California State Fire Training curriculum, based on National Fire Protection Association standards.

Prior to 2011, DMV requirements included firefighters obtaining full commercial licenses for the class of trucks they would be driving. This was especially challenging for rural volunteer departments, since only the DMV offices in urban areas would typically perform the driving tests. Now the driving qualification tests are completed within this course, with each local Fire Chief signing off on the applicant’s overall qualifications.

The California State Firefighter’s Association and other fire service groups supported legislation to change the requirements. This was eventually approved by the State and implemented in 2011. The details can be reviewed in California Vehicle Code (CVC) §12804.11.

The program is hosted through the Plumas County Fire Chiefs Association, and is being held at Graeagle Fire Protection District headquarters. Lead Instructor Gary Castagnetti is the former Chief of Plumas Eureka FD, now working in Sacramento as one of a small group of full-time trainers for CalTrans. Castagnetti has 44 years of experience in the fire service, and is qualified to drive just about anything, including bulldozers and tractor-trailers.

In addition, Quincy Fire Chief Robbie Cassou and Plumas Eureka Fire Chief Tom Forster are assisting, along with Graeagle Assistant Chief Jim Stockdale, Plumas Eureka Assistant Chief Bill Robinson, and Long Valley Chief Steve Peters. All are volunteering in order to keep course costs low. The textbook used for the class was obtained at a 50% discount through a grant from the Fire Services Training Institute and Farmer’s Insurance.

It is being held over two weekends, one in May and one in late July. This is being done to support volunteer firefighter scheduling needs, and to allow for two months of driving practice time. The students need to accrue driving time in their department’s engines while supervised by a properly licensed instructor.

Subjects covered include preventative maintenance, routine tests, inspections, and servicing. Driving topics and skills include operations such as safe backing, defensive driving, code 3 driving, maneuvering in areas with restricted horizontal or vertical clearance, maneuvering around obstructions, parallel parking, and turning within confined spaces. Pumping operations are covered in the follow-up 40-hour course, Driver Operator 1B.

Each year approximately 20-25% of firefighter deaths in the line of duty occur while driving to or returning from alarms. “We emphasize two key guidelines,” said Castagnetti, “Always wear your seat belt, and slow down. There is already one emergency underway when we are called to help, and we don’t want to add to the problems.”

What's Required to Drive Fire Engines Legally and Safely (2024)


Do you need a CDL to drive a firetruck in NC? ›

Commercial Driver Licenses

They are not required to drive recreational vehicles, military equipment, fire and/or emergency equipment or certain farm vehicles, but a driver must have a regular license of the appropriate class.

Do you need a CDL to drive a fire truck in Michigan? ›

A fire department member without a commercial driver license (CDL) is not authorized to operate fire apparatus with a gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds or more until they have successfully passed a Michigan Fire Fighters Training Council Driver Training course written exam followed by completing familiarization ...

What is the driver of a fire engine called? ›

A firefighter driver/engineer, also called a driver, chauffeur or driver/operator, is a firefighting professional who helps transport other members of the department on a fire apparatus, such as a truck or engine.

Can you drive a fire truck around? ›

To drive it on the road, you may legally have to modify it. Common modifications include deactivating or removing lights and sirens as well as removing any safety equipment that protrudes too far into oncoming traffic. Some fire departments ask buyers to remove their town name from the vehicles door.

What vehicles require a CDL in NC? ›

A Commercial Drivers License Is Required For Any Person Who Drives A Commercial Motor Vehicle That: Has A Gross Vehicle Weight Or Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Of 26,001 Pounds Or More; Is Designed To Carry 16 Or More People, Including The Driver; Or Carries Hazardous Materials Required By Federal Law To Be Placarded.

How do I get my hazmat endorsem*nt in NC? ›

Fill out the "Hazardous Materials Endorsem*nt" application through the North Carolina DMV or TSA, depending on which is required in your state. Complete a medical screening. Take and pass the DMV written exam (varies by state) Submit a TSA Background Security Screening either online or in-person.

Do you need a CDL to drive a firetruck in Wisconsin? ›

Fire fighters and rescue squad members are not required to hold a CDL to drive properly equipped emergency or fire fighting vehicles. However, if you hold a Wisconsin driver license but operate a fire fighting vehicle in another state, you may be required to obtain a CDL.

What requires a CDL in MI? ›

For exact wording of a law or a specific guideline, contact the Department of State Information Center at 888-SOS-MICH (767- 6424). Who Needs a CDL? (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more. GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more.

Can you drive a semi without a CDL Michigan? ›

Basically, if your vehicle qualifies as a commercial motor vehicle and you operate it for commerce, you need a CDL. This is a mandatory requirement by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

What do firemen call their trucks? ›

A fire engine (also known in some places as a fire truck) is a road vehicle (usually a truck) that functions as a firefighting apparatus. The primary purposes of a fire engine include transporting firefighters and water to an incident as well as carrying equipment for firefighting operations in a fire drill.

How many gears does a fire truck have? ›

Both the 4000 Series and 4500 Series transmissions are six-speed units. In vehicles that have a GVWR of 50,000 lbs. (or more than 1,250 gallons of combined water and foam), the apparatus is speed-limited to a maximum of 60 mph by NFPA 1901: Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus.

Do fire trucks have AC? ›

Because of the large cabs and large rescue modules that need to be cooled, the average fire or rescue truck is equipped with front and rear a/c systems.

How many miles per hour can a fire truck go? ›

Airport fire trucks are required to be able to accelerate from 0 to 50 miles per hour in 25 seconds or less and reach a top speed of at least 70 miles per hour. Municipal trucks on the other hand must be able to accelerate from 0 to 35 miles per hour in 25 seconds and reach a top speed of at least 50 miles per hour.

Does someone drive the back of a firetruck? ›

Steering the rear is opposite from driving a typical vehicle: If the front engineer makes a right turn, the tillerman swings his steering wheel to the left. “Some of the challenges of operating the back is you always have to stay vigilant,” said Jeff Lewison, a 29-year-old tillerman with the Torrance Fire Department.

Do two people drive a fire truck? ›

The main driver sits in the front cab and steers the front axle and the other sits in the rear tiller cab and steers the rear axle. When required for maintenance, the rear axle can be locked and the front operator can drive the truck like a tractor trailer.

What is Class C license in NC? ›

Class C Regular. It is the most common driver license that allows you to operate personal cars and small trucks. It includes all noncommercial single vehicles with a GVWR of less than 26,001 pounds; and towing a vehicle which has a combined GVWR of less than 26,001 pounds.

How much is a CDL permit in NC? ›

North Carolina Truck Driver Training School Tuition and Fees
NC ResidentOut-of-State Resident
Class A CDL Permit Application$43.25*$43.25*
Class A CDL Permit$21.50*$21.50*
NC Driving Record$10.75*$10.75*
Total Estimated Cost of the TD Program$1,419.00$3,723.00
10 more rows

What class is a regular driver's license in NC? ›

To operate a passenger vehicle, the driver needs a Regular Class C license. To determine which drivers license is required for other types of vehicles, contact your local drivers license office. Residents from other states or countries may operate vehicles in North Carolina using their drivers licenses.

How do I get a tanker endorsem*nt in NC? ›

To add this endorsem*nt to your CLP/CDL, you must pass a knowledge test on the problems posed by large volume liquid cargos. The North Carolina CDL tank vehicles test consists of 20 questions. To pass, you must correctly answer at least 16 questions (80%).

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