Firefighting is a noble profession that requires trust and confidence from the communities they protect. Because of that, firefighters tend to get held to a higher standard, much like police officers. Most career fire departments have rigorous standards for hiring new firefighters, and as much or more expectations for their firefighters once hired.
When looking for a job as a firefighter, more value is placed in your character than your physical abilities.
While there are some disqualifying factors based on physical ability, most of the factors that can disqualify you from becoming a firefighter center around poor behavioral choices that violate the ethical and moral character expected of a firefighter. Those 7 factors are the inability to do the job, age, negative social media history, felony convictions, multiple minor convictions, a dishonorable military discharge, and a DWI conviction.
It is important to note, however, that there are exceptions to some of these disqualifying factors. Some departments are willing to work with successful candidates who show regret over past shortcomings and a willingness to improve.
Some of these disqualifying factors are not written in stone. While some of the disqualifying factors are easily open and shut, such as a felony conviction, others are open to interpretation by the hiring department, such as what might be considered inappropriate for a social media posting.
What to Expect
The hiring process and selection standards vary slightly from department to department. Most post the minimum qualifications and relevant requirements when the job is advertised. A quick call to the department could answer any questions you may have about what may or may not be a disqualifying event.
Most career fire departments are tied to a municipal agency. Most of these agencies have standards in place already for all employees, and the fire department may narrow down the acceptable qualifications beyond that. The greatest concern for municipal agencies is a liability. They want to know they are hiring a capable person who is responsible enough o function without putting the agency at risk.
Some events will disqualify you from certain fire department careers, and some events will disqualify you from the fire service as a career. An example is college hours. Some fire departments require candidates to have a certain amount of college credits. If you do not have any college credits, you will not be qualified to join said department, however, there are plenty of departments where college credits are not a part of the hiring standard.
For the sake of this article, we will be looking at the events that will commonly disqualify you from the fire service as a whole. These are events that an overwhelming majority of career fire departments view as disqualifying for hire or may result in immediate termination if already employed.
Not sure if you want to be a cop or a firefighter? Check out our article here to help you find out!
First Step to Success
The hiring process has several steps. The first is always filling out an application. Being completely honest is the first step to success. If there is something in the past you feel may work against you, be sure to note it on the application. Being honest and forthcoming is the best way to navigate any events that may potentially disqualify you.
Those involved in the hiring process are looking for honest people. They will find out all of your “secrets” throughout the hiring process, so it is best to be the one to initiate the conversation. Most hiring processes now include polygraph (lie-detector) tests, credit checks, and a social media investigation. Trying to cover up something you are embarrassed by or feel may disqualify you will be discovered.
The hiring process usually follows a progressive pattern of turning in an application, an invitation to take the physical agility test, an oral interview, background checks, psychological evaluation, and eventually being onboarded as a new hire. The order may change a bit from agency to agency, but in most career fire departments, all of these steps are included in the process.
At any point along the way, the discovery or revelation of disqualifying events may surface. Knowing ahead of time if you are even qualified to apply can save you a lot of time and the agency a lot of effort, costs, and time. Research ahead of time is the key to finding the right fire departments to apply to. These 7 events are worth focusing on as you deliberate on your fire service future.
1. Inability to do the Job
Due to the nature of the job, and the sometimes grueling physical and mental demands, those interested in the fire service need to be able to accomplish tasks and complete all the mental and psychological tests to succeed.
There are plenty of members of the fire service who can function with certain handicaps. Firefighters with artificial limbs and certain medical conditions that can be regulated by medication find highly successful careers in the fire service.
However, some impairments can not be overlooked. Inability to lift or drag effectively, for example, are physical impairments that would disqualify you from a career firefighter position. Psychological conditions, such as claustrophobia (fear of tight spaces) or vasovagal syncope (passing out at the sight of blood), can also prevent candidates from qualifying to become firefighters.
Age is one factor you can not change. The sooner you decide to pursue a fire service career, the better off you are. Most departments have an age cut off for new hires. Some of those are even as old as the late twenties. Most seem to set an age standard of between 35-40 years old as their hiring cut-off.
There may be some departments that do not advertise an upper age limit for new hires, but the thing to bear in mind is that in most cases, the entry-level positions are based on potential longevity and the physical ability to do the job, both disadvantages to older recruits.
While it is not unheard of for people to be hired as firefighters into their 40s and 50s, there are usually extenuating circumstances involved. Older firefighters looking to leave one department for another may also be able to pull it off because of their time and experience and the fact it could be considered an asset-especially if it is to fill a particular role.
3. Negative Social Media History
One of the greatest liabilities in modern times to the fire service is firefighters whose social media presence reflects negatively on their departments. Inappropriate posts or tweets that involve racist or homophobic content are guaranteed to cost you a potential job with a fire department.
This is one of those areas that are open to interpretation by the hiring department. The San Francisco Fire Department may object over posts that a department in the mid-west may find acceptable. It is all relative to where you want to work. It is best to err on the side of maintaining a neutral social media presence.
While many try and make the argument that social media is one’s individual right to expression, there are obvious negative impacts on employers, and the courts have repeatedly backed organizations who have terminated employees because of their social media activity.
Much like you hear about stars or athletes getting blackballed because of inappropriate posts, the same applies to just about any job, including firefighting. Listen when people warn you about your social media presence. It will be watched and looked over, and it can be a disqualifying event for a firefighter job.
4. Felony Conviction
Conviction of any felony will in most cases disqualify you from ever having a job in the career fire service. Accusations and arrests can be worked through but having a conviction for a felony on your record will, in many cases, keep you from getting that firefighter job, especially if they involve theft or violence.
There are a few things that could help you past this. First is the honesty we mentioned earlier. You need to own your mistakes. Be willing to admit to it and open to discussing it. Along with this, those doing the hiring will look at how long ago it was and what you have done since then.
If you can show that that conviction was an isolated incident a long time ago, there may be some wiggle room for your hire to proceed. Patterns of unethical or immoral behavior are what is being looked at, which brings us to the next disqualifying event.
5. Repetitive Singular Violations
Repetitive singular violations refer to receiving numerous violations for the same thing. The best example of this is speeding tickets. Someone who gets 1 or 2 speeding tickets every year for the last few years comes with some red flags.
You will be entrusted to drive departmental vehicles. Someone who does not have the self-control or patience to follow speed limits is a liability. Repeated violations show a lack of willingness to change and can foretell the possibility of that moving into other areas beyond driving.
6. Dishonorable Discharge from the Military
Many military veterans make a seamless transition into the fire service once leaving the service. Military veterans are a shoo-in for the fire service. They are already used to the structure and discipline that will be a key factor in their success in the fire service. Civil service and veteran’s preference programs even give them an edge over other candidates.
However, receiving a dishonorable discharge in the military can be a career-ender in the fire service before it starts. Knowing a candidate for employment could not dutifully serve in the military presents a big problem in the fire service, which is itself a paramilitary organization.
7. DWI or DUI
DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) or DUI (Driving under the Influence) are taken very seriously by the fire service. You need to remember that most of those doing the hiring have probably responded to hundreds, if not thousands of accidents caused by people under the influence.
It is a conviction that few departments would be willing to see the past. There are examples all over the internet of current firefighters who are fired because of a DWI or DUI when they are not at work. This is one of those crimes that runs very deep in society as a whole, but especially in the fire service.
Conviction of a DWI or DUI presents a level of recklessness or carelessness that few are willing to take a chance with. Fire departments are always trying to win the public relations battles. Hiring someone with a DWI or DUI conviction can be very risky, regardless of the circumstances, and few are willing to take a chance on it.
Do firefighters have to be a certain height?
The easy answer is “No.” Firefighters do not need to be a certain height. Short or tall, the important thing is that they can do the job correctly. Gear is custom-sized, so height is not a significant factor as far as gear goes.
The only time height is challenged is during the physical agility portion of the hiring process. Being shorter means you lose some of the mechanical advantages that height and leverage allow, but if you can pass the test, you are, on paper, just as qualified as the next person to move on through the process.
Being overly short or overly tall maybe a little inconvenient when it comes to moving around the foreground and even simple actions like climbing on and out of the trucks, but it is in no way a disqualifier for joining the career fire service.
Do firefighters have to be a certain weight?
Again, the simple answer is “No.” Just like height, weight is not as important as the ability to pass the physical agility test. However, aesthetics are important in the fire service, and if the selection came down to 2 candidates and one was average weight and the other was overweight, more than likely the one who appears more fit would be selected.
To learn how to best prepare and study for your firefighter exam click here.
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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.
Hi! I’m Shawn Chun and I’m so grateful that you’re here.
Civil servants are some of the hardest working, most generous people I know. I have been passionate about all types of civil service career paths for years now and enjoy sharing everything I continue to learn about them.
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