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Everything You Need to Know About Background Investigations

Everything You Need to Know About Background Investigations

Battalion Chief Paul Lepore

Fire departments traditionally spend thousands of dollars to advertise, recruit and hire firefighters. The departments sift through applicants using written examinations, physical agility tests and comprehensive oral interviews, but only do a cursory check on their backgrounds. They eventually produce a list of top candidates.

It is now up to the organization to ferret out those candidates who were less than truthful on their application or during their interview.

Background investigations are an important component of the hiring process. They are completed by most fire departments across the country. Historically, fire departments have not placed as much emphasis on a thorough background check as their counterparts on the police department.

A criminal check with the local police agency and a DMV check was the extent of what we used to look at.

The local police departments often complete today’s background checks. Many fire departments hold their firefighter candidates to the same high standards expected of a police officer. These standards include criminal history, drug usage, credit history, employment record, encounters with the law and a candidate’s overall persona.

The reasoning is that if a person has demonstrated an inability to manage his or her personal finances, is unable to get along with co-workers, or has simply made poor life decisions, these will be magnified as their responsibilities increase.

If, on the other hand, a candidate has demonstrated a strong history of being able to manage his or her personal and professional life, there is no reason to expect that he or she would not continue to do so after being hired by the agency.

Gordon Graham, an attorney and well-known expert on issues pertaining to police and fire departments, believes that “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” He feels that if a candidate has had problems in the past, he or she will have problems in the future.

His advice to police and fire chiefs across the country is, “Why take the chance and incur the liability, especially when you have so many candidates to choose from.” A thorough background check can help an agency reduce its future incidents of personnel problems and minimize the risk of negative publicity for the agency. Patterns of past performance issues and problems with co-workers are a strong indicator of future behavior and should not be overlooked.

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