Being a firefighter involves a lot of responsibility. The decisions involved in this job are often matters of life or death—for others and for yourself. Because firefighters are responsible for the safety of their team members and the public, fire departments typically spend a considerable amount of time and energy screening new recruits with firefighter background checks, physical examinations, in-depth interviews, and more.
When it comes to physical tests, there is a fair amount of overlap from one fire department to the next. You will be tested on your ability to climb stairs quickly, carry heavy equipment like fire vests and hoses, and break down walls and locked doors. There is less consistency across departments when it comes to firefighter background searches. Departments require different checks, and some are more lenient about criminal histories than others.
Typically, a firefighter background check will include a criminal history search, an employment verification check, and a drug test. Some departments only check local criminal records, while others pull records from state or national sources. Crimes that usually lead to disqualification for fire department recruits include arson, any kind of theft, any kind of assault or battery, and violent crimes. DUIs are also a red flag since some firefighters will have to drive the fire truck.
Employment verifications and reference checks are crucial steps fire departments use to determine a person’s work ethic and experience.
The drug test is one of the most critical parts of a firefighter background screening. Departments will disqualify any candidates that have a history of injectable drug use. Crimes involving the sale or intent to sell of most drugs—including narcotics, LSD, and even marijuana—can also lead to disqualification. Because firefighters need to be on their game at a moment’s notice, and even minor mistakes can lead to loss of life or property, fire departments are not willing to take risks on recruits with drug issues.
The Importance of Honesty
Not every firefighter has a squeaky-clean record. Many departments are willing to take chances on candidates with only minor criminal offenses or whose criminal convictions date back many years. What no department will find acceptable is dishonesty.
Trust is extremely vital for firefighters within a department. When firefighters charge into a burning building together, they do so knowing they have each other’s backs. Any form of dishonesty can breach this trust and make it harder for a fire department to function as a unit. Lies on a resume or job application, therefore, are deal-breakers in most fire departments. A department chief will always respect a candidate for being honest and forthright even without a completely clean record.