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.
A thorough background investigation is important because of the role of the fire department in the community. The firefighter candidate will eventually hold a position of authority and responsibility. Firefighters are welcomed into people’s homes and businesses without fear for their personal safety or their prized possessions. If the candidate is of questionable ethical or moral character, he or she may ultimately become a liability for the hiring agency. This could erode public trust and compromise the department.
Any omission of information is considered to be covering up and will be viewed as deceitful, which is grounds for automatic disqualification. If a candidate legitimately forgets information, it can certainly cost him or her the job opportunity. To avoid making these costly mistakes, a candidate should keep a log of information that would be helpful to a background investigator, including names and addresses of landlords, employers, friends and co-workers. Any blanks left in the packet raises the question of whether the applicant is attempting to cover something up.
Are there automatic disqualifications for the background process?
Yes and no. What does this mean? It depends on the agency and on the feelings of the fire chief. Some fire chiefs don’t care what you have done (within reason), but will automatically disqualify a candidate who is not completely honest during the process, while others consider certain actions to be immediate cause for dismissal.
Some common causes for automatic disqualification include the following: any injectable drug use (i.e. any controlled substance or steroid put into the body via a needle); any selling, intent to sell or transporting of narcotics; hallucinogens such as LSD and acid; multiple uses of marijuana that is considered more than experimental; any type of assault or domestic battery; stealing and arson.
My Advice is to be Honest and Forthright with Information
Everyone makes mistakes. If a candidate is caught in a lie, he or she is automatically eliminated from the process, even if the issue was not a big infraction. The fact that the candidate lied says a lot about his or her character.
I believe that candidates who are concerned about a background investigation are those who have something to hide. Yes, everyone is apprehensive about the process, but a candidate knows deep down inside if he or she has anything to worry about. Yes, everyone has been late paying a bill and has received a parking or speeding ticket. We have all had conflicts with coworkers or neighbors.
If, you have lived your life with code and honor, you have nothing to fear. Background investigations are designed to identify people who would not preserve the honor and integrity of the fire service. They are used to identify people who have lived their lives believing they are above society’s laws. Are we looking for people who have never made mistakes? Absolutely not! We are looking for good, honest people who will become an asset for the fire service.
Once a candidate fails a background investigation, the next agency has a right to know about it. In other words, when a candidate goes through a background investigation for a different agency, that agency has a right to know why you failed. If a candidate failed a background check for lying, chances are they will not make it through the next process.