Disabled firefighter finds new truck driving career

by | Jun 20, 2023 | Foundation

Before Mark White became a certified and licensed truck driver for KLLM Transport Services in Richland, he was a firefighter in Vidalia, La.

“Firefighting was my dream job, the job I grew up wanting to do,” White said, “but I broke my ankle in a house fire in January 2015.”

That broken ankle eventually cost him his dream job. White explained that he has diabetes and because of complications due to an infection, in February 2016 he had to have his right leg amputated beneath the knee.

“I easily could have just gone on disability after my surgery. I was on workman’s comp for a while, but I didn’t want to go on disability, because that’s just not enough for a person to live on. I worked as a prison guard for a while, and that really wasn’t cutting it. I knew that what I really wanted to do was drive a truck, so I decided I would take the time and go through a program,” he said.

He learned about the KLLM Truck Driving Academy in Richland, a partnership between Hinds Community College and KLLM. KLLM offers scholarships, lodging and other resources while students are in the three-week training program and the six-week internship. Hinds manages the curriculum and has collaborated with the U.S. Department of Labor to sponsor a one-year Truck Driver Registered Apprenticeship program for KLLM.

White enrolled in the academy and completed truck driving training in December 2022. He is the first licensed and certified amputee to come through the program. He said he would have done it sooner but was initially intimidated by the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy involved because he is an amputee. He had to have a signed waiver through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) before he could even begin the program.

“It took me three times as long to get through the program as it did other people because of my disability,” he said. “I had to go through a lot to get this license.”

White said he went through the program easily with everyone else, but when it came time to take the test for the commercial driver’s license, he first had to take two additional skills and performance evaluations at the federal and state levels with the FMCSA, and then finally a skills test evaluation to get the commercial driver’s license.

“The first test was just to get the process rolling. The second test, I don’t know, I guess to make sure the first one wasn’t a fluke?” White jokes. “Then I had to take it a third time, and of course, I passed.” He earned his CDL in December 2022.

Still based in Vidalia, White is in the apprenticeship program as a long-haul carrier for KLLM; also known as long-haul trucking, he drives loads from coast to coast with a Yorkshire Terrier he calls Usopp, named after one of White’s favorite anime characters.

White said his message to anyone out there in a similar situation – where the choices are working with a disability or collecting a disability check – is that “if you are able to work, don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Don’t stay home and feel sorry for yourself. That’s a very good way to go down into a deep depression. You may not be able to do the job you really wanted to do in life, and I used to be real angry about that, but I’m enjoying life these days and I feel real good about my future.”