It used to be that fire departments and emergency medical service branches throughout North Carolina would only run background checks on new applicants. However, with a new state law that went into effect on New Year's Day, those emergency response branches will now be able and expected to run background checks on all employees and volunteers, not just new hires.
The move is a good one, for individual fire departments and EMS units scattered throughout the state as well as for public safety as a whole. A pre-employment background check is a good way for an employer to make sure that they are hiring good and trustworthy people. However, too many entities rely solely on these pre-hiring screening to verify the quality of their staffs. As a result, crimes committed during a person's employment often go overlooked and un-discussed.
Such a situation used to be the case with North Carolina's fire departments and EMS units. Feasibly, someone with a clean record could have started working for one of these emergency response branches and then essentially been given a "no questions asked" free pass concerning any future criminal activity. Of course, in most businesses where repeat background checks are not enforced, there is an honor system in place asking employees (or in this case, firefighters and EMS workers) to inform their supervisors about any criminal charges or convictions.
Obviously, such a system is not ideal, especially when lives are at stake. What if a firefighter was convicted of drunk driving during his employment, but was allowed to keep driving the fire truck because his supervisor never knew about the charge? Or what if an emergency medical worker was charged with illegally selling prescription drugs and medications stolen from the hospital? These are pieces of information that fire departments and EMS units absolutely must know about their employees or volunteers, and under North Carolina's new state law, they will.
How different emergency services departments will implement ongoing, repeat background checks for their workers is a bit up in the air. Some will likely opt for annual scheduled checks. Others may prefer to randomly check different employees at different times throughout the year. The latter model could work especially well if bundled with a drug test, which many fire and EMS departments do like run. Regardless of the models adopted, though, there's no doubt that this new law will help to make North Carolina's emergency services branches safer, stronger, and more trustworthy.