Firefighter Background Check: A Complete Guide [2022]

Fire departments should always conduct comprehensive background checks on potential hires. Failing to do so could expose your organization to reputational harm and potential liability.

Did you know that a Cleveland, Ohio firefighter was arrested for voluntary manslaughter after he shot his roommate?

Firefighter background checks can help protect both the safety of your team and the public you serve.

To help you navigate firefighter background checks, we wrote this guide that covers the laws, rules, and procedures you need to know.

Let’s get started.

What Is a Firefighter Background Check?

A firefighter background check is a type of employment background check that fire departments conduct on prospective employees and volunteers to ensure they are qualified, honest, and have good moral character.

Background checks for firefighters are critical because of the role firefighters play.

Firefighters are trusted members of the community whose jobs place others’ lives in their hands and are given significant authority and responsibility.

They spend a significant amount of time in their fire stations with coworkers, respond to emergencies, and are trusted to enter peoples’ homes.

A firefighter background check helps to:

  • Filter out dishonest candidates
  • Identify applicants of questionable moral character
  • Verify an applicant has the required qualifications for the job
  • Protect the safety of other employees and members of the public

Firefighter Background Check Laws for 2022

While there are no federal laws that are specific to firefighter background checks, two laws apply to all employers, including fire departments.

Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a federal law that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces.

This law governs the actions of consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) that gather, maintain, and report consumer information to employers and how employers can use the information reported on employment background checks.

The FCRA restricts CRAs from reporting the following types of information when it’s older than seven years for jobs paying less than $75,000 per year:

  • Arrests not resulting in convictions
  • Liens
  • Civil judgments
  • Civil lawsuits
  • Bankruptcies

This restriction doesn’t apply to positions that pay more than $75,000 per year.

Under the FCRA, criminal convictions can be reported regardless of age. The FCRA also doesn’t restrict the reporting of employment history, education history, and other similar types of background information.

The FCRA governs how employers can use the information they receive on firefighter background check reports.

If you learn that a prospective candidate has a criminal conviction, you must complete the adverse action process before you can make a final adverse hiring decision.

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and prohibits workplace discrimination based on applicants’ and employees’ protected characteristics.

This law applies to the employment background check process when a background check reveals that an applicant has a criminal record.

If you learn that a prospective firefighter has a criminal conviction, you must individually assess the conviction as it directly relates to the duties they would perform before you can make a decision not to hire them.

What Does a Firefighter Background Check Consist of?

Many fire departments ask candidates numerous firefighter background check questions and make candidates undergo physicals and drug tests.

What might appear on a firefighter background check will depend on the types of reports you ask for.

Most organizations ask for the following types of information:

  • Criminal convictions
  • Driving records
  • Pending criminal cases
  • Education verification
  • Employment verification
  • Listing on the Domestic Terrorist Watch List

What might you see on these types of reports? Let’s take a look at a few below.

Criminal Background Reports

A criminal background check allows you to see whether a prospective firefighter has any disqualifying convictions.

If a candidate has a criminal record, the following types of information will appear:

  • Offense date
  • Offense type
  • Offense severity (misdemeanor or felony)
  • Disposition
  • Disposition date
  • Sentence information

Employment Verification

Employment verification allows you to confirm the claims prospective firefighters have made on their application materials about their past employment.

On an employment verification report, the following types of information will appear about each past job:

  • Employer’s name and address
  • Employment dates
  • Titles and positions held

Verifying your candidates’ employment history allows you to screen out dishonest applicants.

Education History

If you request education verification, you will see the following types of information:

  • Name and address of each institution attended
  • Attendance dates
  • Diplomas, degrees, or certificates conferred

Education verification allows you to confirm what a prospective firefighter has reported and whether they are qualified to perform their jobs.

Driving Records Checks

Fire departments typically request motor vehicle records checks as a part of their background checks.

On a driving records report, you may see the following information:

  • Legal name
  • License number
  • License expiration date
  • Photograph, eye color, hair color, height, gender, and weight
  • Date of birth
  • License issuance date
  • License type
  • Traffic violations
  • Traffic crimes
  • Accidents
  • Assessed points
  • License suspensions/revocations

How to Conduct a Background Check on a Firefighter

Some fire departments try a do-it-yourself method for conducting background checks by sending requests to multiple agencies, schools, and former employers.

They might also search online for information about candidates or ask local police departments to check the backgrounds of prospective firefighters.

Pros:

Budget-friendly

Cons:

Time-consuming, incomplete, possibly inaccurate

If you send multiple requests to various agencies and institutions, it could take several weeks for you to receive the reports.

Asking a police department or state agency for information might not reveal other critical information you need to make an informed hiring decision about a candidate’s education, employment history, and more.

If you send multiple requests to various agencies and institutions, it could take several weeks for you to receive the reports.

Searching online could reveal inaccurate information and might not comply with the FCRA.

2. Partner with iprospectcheck

Many fire departments opt to hire a reliable third-party CRA like iprospectcheck to conduct firefighter background checks.

Pros:

We stay current with changes in the employment background check laws and have extensive resources.

We always return up-to-date, accurate, and FCRA-compliant employment background check reports quickly.

Cons:

Some fire departments think working with iprospectcheck will be expensive.

However, we have affordable pricing options, and working with us might also allow you to save labor costs involved with devoting time to sending requests and completing searches for information.

5 Firefighter Background Check Disqualifiers

Here are a few of the most common reasons for a failed firefighter background check.

1. Disqualifying Criminal Convictions

Firefighters routinely work with the public when people experience life-threatening emergencies.

Because of the public-facing nature of their jobs, certain types of criminal convictions will be disqualifying.

If an applicant has a disqualifying conviction, they may be denied employment.

2. Lies About Past Employment

Some applicants lie about their former jobs to make themselves appear more attractive to fire departments.

They might lie about their employment dates to hide gaps in employment or fail to report employment at a company at which they had a problematic work record.

Fire departments that ask for employment verification can easily see these types of discrepancies and will likely withdraw a conditional employment offer when a candidate has lied.

3. Lies About Education

The educational requirements for firefighters vary from department to department. However, most candidates are required to have at least a high school diploma.

If a fire department requests education verification, it will see whether a candidate has lied about their education.

Applicants who’ve lied will likely be denied employment as firefighters.

4. Bad Driving Record

Firefighters must drive as a regular part of their jobs.

Most fire departments perform motor vehicle record checks on prospective firefighters.

If an applicant has too many traffic violations and traffic convictions on their driving record, they will likely be denied employment.

5. Failed Drug Test

Most fire departments request pre-employment drug tests and condition offers of employment on the results.

An applicant who returns a positive test will likely be denied employment.

How Long Does a Firefighter Background Check Take?

The length of time you might have to wait for firefighter background checks will vary based on how you go about conducting them.

If you send requests for information to multiple agencies, schools, and employers, the process could take weeks.

If you work with iprospectcheck, you can benefit from our advanced research methods and access to reliable databases.

Because of our extensive resources and research skills, we can quickly return firefighter background check reports in as little as a few hours.

Is a Background Check Required to Be a Volunteer Firefighter?

Many small fire departments have volunteers who work as firefighters. Just like other firefighters, volunteers should undergo comprehensive background checks.

If you fail to screen volunteer firefighters, you could place the safety of your department, employees, and the public at risk and face potential liability.

iprospectcheck: Your Trusted Partner for Firefighter Employment Background Checks

As a fire department, you should perform comprehensive background checks on all firefighter applicants.

Failing to conduct comprehensive background checks could endanger your employees and the people you’re sworn to protect.

At iprospectcheck, we have extensive experience conducting firefighter background checks for agencies and departments in all 50 states, including the following:

  • California
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington
  • Tennessee
  • Ohio
  • Arizona
  • Texas
  • New Jersey
  • New York State
  • Alabama

To learn more about our firefighter background check services or to get a free quote, call iprospectcheck today: 888-808-9997

DISCLAIMER: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Consult your counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

Know Before You Hire

About the Author
Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers is a highly accomplished business executive with over 30 years of experience providing strategic vision and leadership to companies ranging from the fortune 500 to iprospectcheck, a company which he co-founded over a decade ago. Matthew is a valued consultant who is dedicated to helping companies create and implement efficient, cost effective and compliant employment screening programs. Matt has been a member of the Professional Background Screeners Association since 2009 . When not focused on iprospectcheck, he can be found spending time with his family, fly fishing, or occasionally running the wild rivers of the American west. A lifetime member of American Whitewater, Matt is passionate about protecting and restoring America’s whitewater rivers.