You know what? The dictionary definition of an endorsement is the act of giving one’s approval to something.
So you might be forgiven for thinking that a firefighter’s endorsement is the approval of fire safety precautions in some big building. But it turns out that a Firefighter endorsement means something else entirely….
So, what exactly is a Firefighter endorsement?
A Firefighter endorsement is a special driver’s license endorsement issued by the DMV in certain states. This endorsement allows firefighters (and this includes both career and volunteer firefighters) to drive a fire engine or truck.
It is possible for a firefighter to have a Firefighter endorsement, even if they have a class C non-commercial driver’s license.
In this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about firefighter endorsements, and by the end of the article you will be in a position to decide whether you need to get one. So, if you want to learn more, please read on.
What Exactly Is A Firefighter Endorsement?
For firefighters to be safely and legally allowed to drive large fire engines and trucks, they must not only be properly trained to do so, but also properly licensed. That’s where a firefighter endorsement comes in.
The firefighter endorsement is the latest standard of certification to allow firefighters to drive fire engines and trucks, in most states in the U.S.
And what’s great about these firefighter endorsements is that they allow a firefighter to drive fire department vehicles without first having to get a Class A or a Class B driver’s license.
This makes it both quicker and easier for fire departments to carry out the necessary training of their drivers. This can be particularly handy in small counties where most of the firefighters are volunteers.
The Importance Of Firefighter Endorsements
To examine the importance of firefighter endorsements, we’re going to do a quick case study of California’s fire department situation…
In the last few years, California has endured some catastrophic wildfires, even to the point of receiving global recognition. In 2018 for example, about 1.9 acres of land was damaged, 97 civilians were killed, 6 firefighters were killed, and there was $3.5 billion lost in damages.
And 2019 wasn’t a whole lot better, 260,000 acres of land were destroyed, $163 million was spent in suppression efforts, and again there were fatalities, 5 this time. And wildfires destroyed almost 44,000 acres of Northern California’s Plumas National Forest.
At this point, it became abundantly clear to the state of California that they needed the best-skilled firefighters, even though many of the firefighters there were volunteers rather than career firefighters.
In which case, it became especially beneficial for these firefighters to obtain a firefighter endorsement, and enable them to drive a fire engine or truck without first having to obtain a Class A or Class B license.
Driver / Engineer Or Driver / Operator
Those firefighters who drive and operate a fire engine or truck can be referred to as drivers, engineers, fire engineers, or driver/operators. These are all terms of the same position.
In larger fire departments, you may be promoted to this position after first being a regular firefighter. Smaller departments with less staff however, may find it better to have brand-new firefighters driving the vehicles from the get-go.
It used to be the case that the DMV required anyone driving a fire apparatus to have either a Class A or Class B driver’s license, and some states still do, but more often than not a firefighter’s endorsement is sufficient.
A Class A driver’s license enables the driver to drive any combination of vehicles, and to tow any vehicle weighing more than 10,000 pounds.
A Class B driver’s license enables the driver to drive any single vehicle weighing more than 26,000 lbs, or with 3 or more axles except buses and farm labor vehicles, and to tow any vehicle weighing more than 10,000 pounds.
So, as you might well imagine, the process of obtaining a Class A or a Class B driver’s license is much more involved and requires a lot more training than merely obtaining a firefighter's endorsement, which is simply just an add-on to a standard Class C driver’s license.
This can be of particular benefit in small counties where firefighters are often there on a volunteer basis, and there are fewer firefighters around that are career firefighters with sufficient driving ability and licenses.
Volunteer firefighters can be swiftly given their training on driving fire engines and trucks, without first having to train and apply for any Class A or B drivers licenses.
In Plumas County, which is a small county in California with a population of approximately 20,000 people or so, it may seem like a small area for the fire department to cover. However, in the last few years it has fallen to be an easy victim of spreading forest wildfires.
This became particularly evident in early September 2019, when they went through one the state’s largest fires so far that year.
Back in 2010, Plumas County was one of the areas that still required its firefighters to have either a Class A or Class B driver’s license in order to drive fire engines or trucks.
And, as we have mentioned, these licenses require the driver to be able to drive huge vehicles, such as trucks that have two or more axles and weigh over 26 tons.
Both of these licenses require a lot of additional training and testing, not to mention medical examinations, and other requirements besides.
Which meant that firefighters could not legally drive a fire engine or truck to put out these fires unless they happened to already have at least a Class B commercial driver’s license, with a “FireFighter Restricted” endorsement.
However, this endorsement was not offered in the local Department of Motor Vehicles, and as a result, firefighters would have to travel quite some way, and even across the state to get to a DMV that was equipped to administer and process the proper tests.
With the local DMVs lacking a proper testing program, this proved a significant hindrance in achieving a fully skilled firefighter team.
The 2011 Change Of Driver License Requirements For Engineers In California
The year 2011 was a turning point, and the driver license requirements for fire engineers finally changed for the better…
Instead of first needing to obtain a Class B license at least before they could apply for a “FireFighter Restricted” endorsement, that was no longer necessary and for the first time, they could get a firefighter endorsement on a Class C driver’s license, once they have demonstrated that they have met the necessary requirements.
The president of the Plumas County Fire Chiefs Association, one Ed Ward, attended a seminar on the DMV changes where he was shocked to learn that there was no exemption in place to allow a regular firefighter to drive a fire engine or truck in the event of an emergency.
And it is this lack of exemption that made it so difficult to find fully qualified fire engine drivers, especially in situations where the squads were all volunteers.
New Firefighter Endorsement Requirements
Now, don’t be under any illusions, driving a fire engine to an emergency is not easy. It requires adequate training and the keys can’t simply be handed over to just anyone.
So, when the changes to the legislation were put in place, a set of proper requirements was put into place.
Anyone now wishing to obtain a Firefighter’s endorsement now needs a “Original Firefighter Employment and Training Verification” letter. This letter should feature the official signature of the fire chief of the fire department, and should be accompanied by:
- Your certificate of employment as a firefighter, or if you are a volunteer, proof of your registration as a volunteer firefighter
- Your certificate of completion of a fire equipment operator training program (usually State Fire Marshal – Driver 1A Class)
They would also need to pass the written firefighter endorsement test, and to submit a health questionnaire.
The fire department driver training also has requirements. Here follows the training requirements set out by the California DMV, taken from their website:
- Meets or exceeds the standards outlined in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1002, Chapter 4 (2008 version) or the Fire Apparatus Driver/Operator 1A course adopted by the Office of the State Fire Marshal.
- Prepares the applicant to safely operate the department’s fire equipment that the applicant will be authorized to operate.
- Includes a classroom (cognitive) portion of at least 16 hours.
- Includes a practical portion of at least 14 hours, which includes directly supervised behind-the-wheel driver training.
So, as you might imagine, a lot of fire departments with significant portions of volunteers are requesting that their trainees are being put onto training programs to obtain a firefighter's endorsement as a graduation requirement.
So, in short, the process for a firefighter to be legally allowed to drive a fire engine or truck is as follows:
- Complete the necessary training
- Submit proof of employment or volunteer registration, and proof of driver training
- Pass the DMV’s written test
- Have a firefighter endorsement added to their regular Class C license, without the need for a Class A or B license
As a general rule, fire departments are allowed to run their training programs for their fire engine drivers in-house, under the proviso that they either utilize the state-issued program, or an alternative program that meets the minimum requirements.
Anyway, back to our example. Plumas County firefighters can now take a 40-hour training program as required by their local DMV.
And this news comes as a huge relief to the county that has seen over 20% of annual firefighter deaths resulting from accidents incurred by driving to and from emergencies.
The situation in Nevada is that drivers can have an exemption on their commercial driver’s license that allows them to operate any vehicle for an emergency response.
Georgia also uses a similar multipurpose exemption for the endorsement, but distinguishes between regular firefighters and volunteers.
However, some states still require a commercial Class A or B driver’s license for its fire engine drivers. And this is a real cause for concern, the better skilled the firefighter squad, the better able it is to handle emergency situations.
A firefighter’s endorsement is a lot more than just another hoop to jump through. Being able to safely operate a large and heavy vehicle in an emergency situation is a very important skill that can enable a firefighter squad to respond quickly to emergencies.
Having firefighter endorsements, rather than making volunteers first obtain a Class A or B license, is a great way of helping to get enough drivers in the squad, whether they’re career firefighters or volunteers.