Do You Need A CDL To Drive A Firetruck?

If you’ve ever been to a parade undoubtedly, you’ve seen firefighters in their truck.  But, have you ever wondered if you need a CDL to drive a firetruck?  If you have you’re not alone.

In this guide, will explain why CDL isn’t mandatory while also discussing some other important considerations about your driving skills and training. Just because you are exempt from needing a commercial driver’s license, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need plenty of training.

So, do you need a CDL to drive a firetruck?

No, it is not necessary to have a CDL in order to drive any fire apparatus. This is because fire trucks are not classed as commercial vehicles.  Therefore, there is a federal exemption that allows firefighters to operate the various apparatus without the need for any special drivers’ licenses. Anyone that is on-call at the station to attend a fire or medical emergency can drive to the incident under their normal driver’s license.

Typically, a commercial vehicle is one that is part of a fleet, can carry more than 15 people and weighs over 26,000 pounds. This isn’t always the case with fire trucks because of their range of sizes and functions – as well as the lack of a “fleet” in some volunteer departments.

One of the minimum requirements that you will see when applying to become a firefighter in the need for a valid state driver’s license. What is interesting here is that this relates to a standard state license that you would need to drive a car.

You might look at this and wonder how you can work as a firefighter, drive a fire truck and work other pieces of apparatus without something more heavy-duty. Can you really carry out your duties as a firefighter without a CDL?

So why is there so much confusion when we read about firefighter driver’s license requirements online?

The confusion stems from some of the different state laws that affect firefighters and the requirements of individual fire departments. For example, you could apply for a role in a small department in your state and never hear about CDL training.

Or, you could find that some departments are more eager for their recruits to have a CDL and offer this as on-the-job training. Some firefighters and fire chiefs on forum swill give their opinion on the benefits of CDL training for firefighters handling large trucks instead of providing the fact – which is that it is not mandatory.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the training and expectations of the department.

These state laws and individual expectations by departments can make things confusing when applying. So, it really is best to talk to your local department about their own expectations to clear things up.

But, these local differences are understandable when you consider that each department has its own way of doing things, its own apparatus and its own crew with a certain skill set. We can’t expect a volunteer firefighters on a department with a couple of engines, a ladder and a small ambulance to only hire CDL-licensed firefighters if they don’t have to.

These engines aren’t commercial, they might not even be that big in tonnage, but they are essential for the health and safety of the community. It is better that more firefighters can work with them than less, even if that means a lack of official licensing.

So what standards are in place for driving a firetruck?

This all makes it sound like the fire service has quite relaxed rules and training requirements when it comes to handling engines and other apparatus. This isn’t the case at all.

No firefighter is going to be able to get out of their probationary period if they don’t complete their necessary equipment training. This means learning how to handle everything at the station in a properly, including the trucks.

Training will focus on the equipment, engines and other tools owned by the station. Everyone must become proficient in working with them. If the department acquires something new, everyone will undergo the training on how to use it regardless of previous experience.

Those that obtain their firefighter 1 and 2 certifications will have sufficient knowledge that eliminates the need for any additional CDL training or other licenses for operating fire apparatus.

In most fire academies there is a module that covers operating emergencies.  Those that progress with their training to become a engineer/operator, which involves more skills and safety checks of the vehicle, will expand on their knowledge accordingly.

If firefighters were to gain a CDL license independently or do so before they reach the minimum age to join, fire departments wouldn’t necessarily give them any preference points or special treatment during the firefighter interview. Quite frankly, there are more important skills to learn about the apparatus, strategies and fire suppression more generally.

A clean driving record is most important

A final point to mention here is that while specific licenses like the CDL aren’t essential, a clean driver’s license and good driving record are. It is more important to have a group of safe, responsible firefighters in the trucks with a standard state license than a couple with a CDL license that might not be so reliable behind the wheel.

It still takes a lot of skill and care to drive these things. You need to be conscious of others on the road and your crew members in the truck. You need to be able to concentrate on the road, maintain the right speed and always operate apparatus with due regard.

This may all sound like common sense to most firefighters, but you might be surprised at some of the stories of reckless and even drunk-driving in the fire service.

This is why firefighters will take the time to run a background check on your license and make sure that you have a good history. They want to know if you have any offenses for speeding, DUIs or other traffic violations.

Even something minor from your early years driving as a teen could come back to haunt you hear. A DUI could wipe out any chance of a successful application for a number of years.

You don’t need a CDL as a firefighter, but you still need the right training and skills.

In short, if you’ve been wondering whether or not you need a CDL to drive a firetruck, it isn’t mandatory. These vehicles are exempt so that more firefighters can handle them as long as they have the right fire training and driving skills to do so.

If you have a clean driver’s license in your state, strong skills on the road and the willingness to go through the appropriate training, you can drive a fire truck when you complete your firefighter training.