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The Firefighter Background Investigation

What will a prospective department want to know about my past?

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Depending on the department the firefighter background investigation can be rather strict.  Although the process can be difficult, it is not impossible. Every year fire departments spend thousands of dollars screening and checking potential candidates. The firefighter background investigation is usually one of the first hurdles you’ll encounter in your quest to become a firefighter, and for the purposes of this article we will focus on that.   

Importance of Background Investigations   

Every year firefighters spend a good amount of time in people’s homes, or on their property. This means that honesty is very important. The fire service has a reputation for being the ‘good guys’ and they generally work very hard at maintaining this image. This means that the public needs to trust that image and not be concerned when firefighters are in their home. The same holds true for the fire house.  Spending days at a time with your crew can be exhausting and tense and it’s crucial that your crew mates are able to trust you around their personal belongings. The background investigation is a high-level way of looking at the character of the candidate.  This doesn’t mean that a clean background automatically makes you a good candidate, just that it doesn’t make you one with a criminal history.  

What is involved in a firefighter background investigation? 

Although each department is different when it comes to their own process, they all follow the same general process. During the application period the candidate will be given a packet.  Within this packet you will find pages that contain questions about, criminal history, employment verification, encounters with the law, driving record, and even credit history. All of these will play a factor in whether or not the depart will move on with the hiring process.   Also, many departments require you to be fingerprinted.  All in all, process is usually quick, and you will find out your results within 1-2 weeks.  Also, it’s important to note that depending on the department you apply to, you may be required to pass a polygraph test as well.  

Criminal History 

As you can already guess, departments don’t want to hire candidates with a criminal background. As someone that will eventually be held in a position of authority and responsibility, it is important that the leadership in the department as well as the general public be able to trust you. However, this doesn’t mean that any criminal activity in your past will preclude you from service, but it will certainly make it more difficult.  Also, it’s important to note that different criminal acts carry different significance.  Most departments have a policy about not hiring someone with a felony record.  However, some misdemeanors (depending on the amount of time that has passed and the severity of the crime) can be overlooked during the process.

Employment Verification  

Departments are looking for dependable candidates, one’s that are looking to build a career in the fire service and not just another job.  Are you able to hold a position for a while? Do you have a problem with authority? Are they able to work well with others?  All of this information will be reflected in your employment history.  

Driving Record 

This is vitally important information for a department. As someone that could potentially be driving fire engines, ladder trucks, watercraft, ambulances, utility vehicles and more, it is important to have a clean driving record. While every department will be different, they generally will judge your driving record based on the number of points that have accrued on your license. DUIs are pretty straightforward when it comes to being considered or not, but just as with the misdemeanors on your record, they aren’t necessarily a deal breaker.

Credit History for Firefighters!?

Some may think that checking your credit history is unnecessary and unfair.  However, many departments will require a credit check before they hire you.  Why?  Simply put, your credit history is a measure of your financial responsibility.  Yes, you may have made mistakes, or possibly even be in a situation where your poor credit score is outside of your control (identity theft, divorce etc.)  Situations such as this can easily be explained and overlooked.  However, if you have a history of poor credit due to your poor decisions it may be held against you.

Although it can be a little intimidating to think about, the firefighter background investigation isn’t too nerve racking. The important thing to remember is honesty. It looks better to everyone if you are just upfront with your background. You would rather have the department know about your actions ahead of time than be caught in a lie down the road.

Remember when it comes to certain >>>mistakes in your past<<<, time is your best friend, but even more so is action. As most people believe that those actions in our past will be the actions we take in the future, you can break that stereotype by changing yourself for the better.  This means being able to demonstrate and articulate what you have learned from your past mistakes and what you have done to change.