Back in June 2008, Willow Creek VFD firefighter Tom Smithey phoned us up to vent some fiery frustration: The feds had made it so difficult for rural firefighters to get licensed to drive a fire truck that they feared one day their crew -- waiting on a driver -- might arrive too late to control a blaze.
In brief: New rules had made it so that, to get licensed, would-be drivers had to travel to the coast to take the driving test at the Department of Motor Vehicles office -- and they had to bring an already licensed firefighter and a fire truck with them. It was cumbersome and slowed the process of licensing drivers. See Fire, No Driver.
Well, a couple of anxious years later -- feet tap-tappin' in the idling truck while some corner of a rural burg burns -- there appears to be a solution: a co-party bill crafted by Ass. Wes Chesbro (D-North Coast) and Ass.Kevin Jeffries (R-Lake Elsinore) and signed by the Governor this Wednesday. According to the news release from Chesbro's office:
AB 1648 allows firefighters who already possess a Class C license to earn a "Firefighter Endorsement" that authorizes them to drive fire equipment after completing 30 hours of classroom and behind-the-wheel training under supervision of a qualified fire chief.
"To complete the process, firefighters will still have to submit to the DMV their health questionnaires and written documentation from the fire chiefs who trained them and pass a written test," Chesbro said. "But it eliminates the requirement of having an already licensed firefighter also travel to a distant DMV office. It put too many rural communities at risk to have personnel and equipment taken out of service for an entire day, especially during fire season."
The new law goes into effect Jan. 1.