Q&A Feature: Can I Still Be a Firefighter If I Have a Criminal Record?
FireLink.com/Battalion Chief Paul Lepore
The investigator will take several photos of the candidate that will be shown to friends, neighbors and co-workers during the investigation. The applicant will be asked for a list of friends and close associates, including their names, addresses and phone numbers. The prospective firefighter must sign a stack of release waivers that will be used by the investigator for each person contacted.
The investigator will review the background packet with the applicant, seeking to identify any discrepancies and delve deeper into them. This is the applicant’s opportunity to explain his or her side of what transpired. It is akin to going to confession. After this stage, anything uncovered by the investigator that was not previously disclosed is considered to be intentionally “forgotten” and could be used as a foundation for dismissal from the hiring process. Once an investigator gets a feel about a candidate from the interview, he or she will begin some cursory checks of driving and criminal records, as well as a credit check.
Driving records are important, since having a current driver’s license is required for most firefighter positions. A candidate who has a history of speeding or ignoring traffic laws may be disqualified since we operate emergency vehicles. Driving lights and siren through the city is a huge liability for the agency. Imagine if a firefighter was driving lights and siren at an excessive rate of speed and plowed into a bus bench full of school children. The subsequent investigation revealed that the firefighter had a series of speeding and moving violations. The agency would probably lose any lawsuit. Even if it didn’t, it would certainly be a black eye for the department.
Numerous parking tickets make a statement of how a candidate reacts to authority. If a candidate has a series of infractions (paid or not), it could indicate that he or she feels that it is unnecessary to abide by society’s rules.
I was asked in a seminar recently if a candidate would be held liable for the parking tickets he was given while driving the company delivery vehicle. He tried to reason that they weren’t his fault because, as a delivery driver, his boss gave him permission to park in the red zone. I asked him who gave his boss the authority to tell him it was OK to ignore the law. He continued to tell me that since his boss told him it was OK, and the company paid for the tickets, he felt he was off the hook. I told him that even if he were off the hook for the parking tickets, he would probably fail the background because he has a pattern of exercising poor judgment.
Another candidate asked if it would look badly if he was always the one to bail his friends out of jail. He rationalized that it showed he was a loyal and dedicated friend. He stated that he knew the fire service valued strong friendships and looking out for each other. I assured him that he was correct on both counts. We do value strong friendships, and we certainly take care of each other. I would question why he is associating with people who are constantly being thrown in jail. I reminded him of the old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.” In other words, if your friends and associates are guilty, then so too are you. Whether this is the case or not is irrelevant; you define yourself by the company you keep.
Obviously, criminal records are important to the hiring agency. Firefighters routinely find themselves unsupervised in people’s homes and businesses. Imagine for a moment the headlines in the local newspaper: “Firefighter arrested for stealing from elderly lady’s bedroom while she was having a heart attack.” Of course, this would be picked up by the national media and would be a black eye for all firefighters.
Credit history is also important, as it too makes a statement of how an individual handles responsibilities. If a person is not able to live within his or her means, this person is a potential liability to the agency. A blemished credit history may indicate an inability to handle responsibility. Again, though, you do have an opportunity to explain yourself in the investigator’s interview.