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How To Your Obtain Driver Operator Aerial Certification

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As I was sitting at the dinner table chatting with a few fellow firefighters at the station, we could hear the on duty battalion chief giving the new employees a tour of the station. 

Some of them were full time, and others were part time paid on premise. They all came by and got a tour of the kitchen and day room areas, as well as the rest of the station.

Then they all gathered into the on duty supervisor’s room where the battalion chief asked them what certifications they all had. The one certification that most of them did not have is driver operator-aerial.

So how does one obtain their driver operator-aerial certification?

In general, in order to get that certification, you need to first have your driver operator-pumper certification. Now I know what you’re wondering, what’s the difference between both certifications and why they are separate. We’ll cover that in the next section.

Driver/Operator Pumper vs Aerial

So the driver/operator- pumper and aerial certifications are similar when learning how to drive and operate fire apparatuses.

The difference is the pumper class has a very heavy focus on getting your initial hands on experience on learning how to drive the apparatus as well as operate all of the buttons inside the cab. 

You learn how to perform maintenance on the vehicle and how to make sure it is in proper condition before driving or operating. The other thing you learn in this class is how to operate the pump and properly charge hoselines to the needed PSI without destroying the water main or the apparatus.

I wrote a pretty in depth article on this class and how to study for the written exam. This article also includes a free pump chart article on how to prepare for the driver operator exam

The Aerial Certification

The aerial certification classes assume you already have all the basics down of operating an apparatus that you should’ve learned in driver operator pumper. That includes basics of driving vehicles with air brakes, over the road driving, etc.

Now being the driver of an aerial changes a few things for you, such as where you would position the apparatus during a structure fire. If you are driving an engine, most of the time the officer will likely have you position the engine on a specific side of the structure, or go directly to a water source.

That is however based on your department’s SOPs or SOGs.

In a structure fire, the aerial is usually positioned where it can hit two sides of the building at once. So if a structure is labeled with A,B,C & D sides, the goal is to position the apparatus where the ladder or platform can easily access two sides.

During certification, you get tested on over the road driving, a cone course, setting up, and pumping. It is important to know these well because they will come back during aerial.

Pre-required Coursework

As mentioned in the paragraph before, having your driver/operator-pumper certification is usually a prerequisite. These classes are usually very short because it is based on the assumption that you know and understand the basics.

Make sure you know how to operate the aerial, and know how to set up properly. One simple example of the importance of knowing aerial operations is knowing where to chock wheels. On an engine or another apparatus, the wheel chocks are placed in the back. Things change for aerial apparatuses, because you chock the front wheels and not the back.

Written Test Tips

When it comes to the written test, make sure you go over small easy to miss details that you may find in your textbook. Questions you will probably see are those referring to load tip capacity. The load tip capacity will change depending on the aerial device whether it is a platform or a ladder.

Know the minimum distance you can safely operate an aerial from overhead obstructions and power lines. Don’t be surprised if you also get some pumping questions and even firefighter 1 questions.


To wrap this all up, you need to review your basic CDL type questions like air brakes & tanker. Aerial is a great certification to have in your arsenal. If you are looking for information on how to obtain your driver/operator-pumper certification, you can check out this article I wrote about how to obtain that certification.

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