BY JAMES T. MADORE
May 21, 2009
ALBANY - State officials have preserved a Memorial Day tradition: big fire trucks in parades.
Gov. David A. Paterson Thursday signed into law a bill waiving the requirement that the operators of hook-and-ladder, water pumpers and other fire trucks have a commercial driver's license in nonemergency situations, such as parades, training exercises and funerals.
Fire departments, both volunteer and paid, have withdrawn from Memorial Day parades across the state, citing worries about members being held liable if an accident occurred. And their absences quicken the bill's passage in the legislature, though approval was never in doubt.
"All the fire departments throughout this state will be able to participate fully in this coming weekend's Memorial Day parades, which we know is part and parcel of the culture of so many communities," State Sen. Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point) said on the Senate floor.
He and Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D- Lindenhurst) sponsored the legislation, which fully exempts firefighters from the 2005 federal rule without also jeopardizing millions of dollars in federal highway funds coming to New York. A waiver of the license requirement in emergencies was included in the state budget adopted last month.
"This is really about safety, drills, building inspections and other important work that firefighters do," Sweeney said.
The legislation was adopted unanimously in both the Senate and Assembly. It takes effect immediately.
Thomas J. Cuff Jr., president of the 130,000-member Firemen's Association, emphasized the waiver's importance to volunteers, many of whom cannot afford a commercial driver's license. "Those restrictions would have hampered our responders' abilities to respond to emergencies," he said.
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