One of the questions that always seems to come up when discussing a possible career in the fire service is how are tickets and criminal records treated in the fire service? There are a lot of factors involved in the answer-what are the tickets for? When were they issued? How many have you had, etc., etc?
Will something as simple as a speeding ticket keep you from becoming a firefighter? The short answer is not. Most departments look beyond simple infractions, and there is a department out there ready to hire you, speeding ticket and all.
A majority of fire departments won’t give a second thought to a single speeding ticket during the hiring process. If you advance to the interview stage of the hiring process, you may be asked about it, but a short, honest answer avoids any further attention to it in most cases.
However, there may be some departments that have certain hiring criteria that a speeding ticket may derail. For example, how recent was it? Or was it considered a misdemeanor or not?
How fast were you going?
These are all factors that may eliminate your chances at some departments, but these departments are very few and far between. As long as you are eligible to get the proper driver’s license required for fire department vehicles, you should be fine.
Where is the Line Drawn?
Many fire departments will hire firefighters with charges greater than a simple speeding ticket. Fire departments take a lot of time finding the right person for the job. Background checks, credit checks, lie detector tests, and psychological evaluations are some steps departments are taking to weed out negative recruits.
Firefighters are put in situations where they must be honest and ethical. What hiring agencies want are candidates who are mature, honest, and trustworthy. They realize most of us have done things in the past that we regret, and most will not hold it against you.
What departments are seeking are people that have moved beyond that. People who have made those mistakes in the past. Own up to them if asked and be honest about why it happened. Chances are they already know.
They are looking for honest people of character, not perfect, sinless individuals to join the department. This is why you need to be upfront about any tickets you may have. While they may appear minor to you-such as a speeding ticket years ago-the failure to mention them may give the impression you are trying to hide it or cover it up.
When in doubt, ask around. If you want to apply for a specific department, check the printed materials and announcements for any disqualifying activities or events, such as speeding tickets. When in doubt, call and find out. You can do this anonymously and quickly get the answer you seek.
Speeding Tickets are Seldom Limiting as a New Hire
If you get hired for a firefighter position, chances are you will not be driving department vehicles anytime soon. There are exceptions, of course, but generally, you will be in support roles as you work through your rookie and probationary time, and driving apparatus is something you will have an opportunity to advance to further down the road.
In the situation where you may be requested or required to drive fairly soon after you are hired, such as being assigned to an ambulance with driving responsibilities, departments will have their driver training and Standard Operating Guidelines (SOGs) or Procedures (SOPs) that must be adhered to.
A driving record will also be run on you before you can drive. A past speeding ticket or two will not make a difference in your responsibilities in this case. However, multiple recent speeding tickets (in the last year) or speeding tickets coupled with other violations such as reckless driving may prevent your ability to drive departmental vehicles.
The hiring process and pursuit of firefighter jobs can take quite a while, especially if you choose to go to the academy or other certification route before looking for a firefighter job.
Take this time to focus on keeping your driving record clean.
Check out our list of disqualifications when becoming a firefighter HERE!
Once You Are Hired…
Once you are hired by a fire department, you will need to be aware of what limits you may have added to your driving habits. For example, in most states, you will need to get a commercial driver’s license to drive the larger and heavier fire apparatus.
Many states add limits to holders of a commercial driver’s license that a noncommercial driver’s license holder would not need to worry about. Examples include lower Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) minimums for impaired driving, even if in your personally owned vehicle, and the risk of losing your commercial license for fewer violations than for which a noncommercial license holder would lose their license.
Simply put, you will be under a driving microscope once you are hired and your duties grow to include driving. Accidents, especially at-fault accidents, are a publicity nightmare, can lead to lawsuits and other legal ramifications, and, most importantly, can cause personal injury and loss of life.
Because of this, fire departments take driving very seriously. Some consider driving apparatus to be one of the most dangerous events in the fire service. Second to medical events-such as heart attacks-driving accidents are the greatest cause of deaths to firefighters every year.
The process to become a driver/operator or Engineer, is incredibly involved and usually involves course work, hands-on training and testing, and written tests. Your fire department realizes that your becoming an Engineer for them is an investment, and you need to look at it that same way.
If you have any driving infractions once hired, you will need to pass them up the chain of command. Most fire departments spell out the policy in their SOGs or SOPs that will offer you some guidance if in doubt.
An occasional speeding ticket will probably not affect your status as a driver but beware that repeated tickets or accompanying violations may cost you your job. Firefighters have been let go when they can no longer maintain their license or ability to legally drive or operate the department’s equipment.
What About Volunteer Fire Departments?
Volunteer fire departments serve a purpose in the career hiring process. Besides the obvious advantages and roles, volunteer fire departments offer the communities they protect; they are a great opportunity for those considering a career in the fire service to get their feet wet, make connections, and begin feeling out the fire service.
While the differences can be great between career and volunteer fire departments, many career firefighters got their start in volunteer fire departments. In volunteer departments, firefighters tend to jump right into a lot of responsibility and functions.
Driving standards and requirements can be vastly different. Due to volunteer shortages and available manpower, volunteers may be given little instruction before being cleared to drive apparatus and vehicles. With this also comes differences in the standards and liabilities of their drivers.
Most volunteer fire departments are non-profit organizations and do not need to adhere to the same rules and regulations faced by the career firefighter industries’ liabilities and standards. Some volunteer departments do not run background checks and allow people to drive and operate equipment that would never be able to do it in a career department.
So, if you are using a volunteer fire department as a steppingstone to a career firefighting job, do not expect the same policies and practices when approaching the tasks. While volunteer fire departments are a great resource for communities, they make exceptions that you should not expect at a career fire department.
What would disqualify you from a firefighter career?
There are several things that departments look closely at when arriving at the standards and expected qualifications of their applicants. Firefighters are put in situations where ethics and character come into play, especially as it relates to being trustworthy and dependable.
Criminal activity is pretty obvious, but anything that resulted in a conviction that required jail or prison time is pretty much a deal-breaker. Other events that would disqualify you from applying include a dishonorable discharge from the military and repetitive minor criminal convictions.
In today’s fire service, where departments get hundreds of more applicants than they have jobs for, the departments can be more selective in their applicant expectations. Some run credit checks on applicants and require a minimum score to apply. Some departments also require some college hours before applying, and others that check social media profiles before advancing applicants.
To be sure you meet the criteria of the department you wish to apply for, be sure to do your homework and see what exactly is expected of applicants. A few missteps in the past will not prevent your firefighting career, but it may limit where you can begin it.
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.