Chief Guccione's Thoughts To Help Improve Your Success

Your Personal Decisions Affect You Becoming a Firefighter

By Chief Dean Guccione -

As you are invited further and further into the hiring process, pursuing your dream career, by now you may have completed and passed the written exam, oral interview, maybe a Chief’s interview, and have been handed a background packet. The next step in the hiring process is for the fire department to determine if you have a past that is worthy of being a firefighter for their city and department and every decision you make in your personal life can and will affect your ability to get hired as a full-time, firefighter for a municipal department.

Past Behaviors are Predictors of Future Behaviors

Fire departments throughout the U.S. have discovered that your past behaviors and actions are very good indicators of future behaviors and actions. That is why the background investigation is such an important tool used in the screening of firefighter applicants. So, I’m writing this month’s Chief’s Tip to help you turn away from some of the negative influences you face and decisions you make, that can dramatically decrease your chances of passing the background investigation.

While the number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana is increasing, I’m of the firm belief that fire departments, especially within those states, are going to fail candidates in the background who have recently used marijuana. Most fire departments still and may always have no-drug-use policies, which include recreational marijuana use.

All of the personal decisions you make on a daily basis, will be the determining factor as to whether you will pass your background. Even having a recent unpaid parking ticket or traffic violation shows that you use poor judgement in making decisions in your personal life, so they will probably not take the chance with you, since they have hundreds of other candidates to choose from that don’t have any negative background issues.

Just because it’s Legal, Doesn’t Mean You’re Immune

It’s important for you, as a firefighter candidate to know that just because a substance may be legal in a particular state, any fire department can ban the use of pot by its members and applicants, because if allowed, would put the fire service in a bad light and create a PR nightmare that would be very difficult to defend. And the last thing any department needs is negative publicity that will diminish the trust of the public. The trust of the public equals dollars, and dollars are what pays firefighter’s salaries and benefits. So, that is the political downside if the fire department loses the trust of the public.

So, my message to you today is to discontinue the use of any form of recreational marijuana if you are serious about becoming a firefighter (let alone any and all other non-prescribed or illegal drugs). You will be immediately disqualified if you’ve ever injected an illegal drug, and that includes any controlled substance, as well as steroids. I’m not at all saying this to lecture you, but rather to help you succeed. We have all made mistakes in our past, but perpetuating those mistakes because pot may be legal, under the law, doesn’t give you immunity in the hiring process. And by the way, marijuana is still illegal under the federal government.

You Will Be Asked About Your Alcohol and Drug History

Fire departments know that most candidates have tried pot at some time in their lives and experimenting with marijuana is not a disqualifier, just as drinking alcohol is not a disqualifier. However, you will be asked about your alcohol consumption as well, and if it’s found out that you drink and party on a regular basis, you will be disqualified, even though it is legal to drink. The same goes for marijuana. Remember, they can choose the cream of the crop and they are more likely to take a chance on a candidate who has only used pot a few times 5 years ago, as opposed to someone who has used it twice a week for the last 5 years and decided to give it up 6 months ago.

The best thing a candidate can do, once they’ve decided that being a firefighter is what they want to do for their career, is to stop using pot, and limit how much and how often you drink and party.

Begin Now

The whole idea is to start living your life as a firefighter. In every aspect of your life. If you do, you’ll have a much better chance at passing the background and realizing your dream. If the investigator sees that you’ve made good personal decisions and exercised good judgement in your past, then the prediction is that you will continue to use good judgement and make good decisions as you ascend through your fire service career. And, from a department’s perspective, have fewer personnel and disciplinary issues with its firefighting force.

Fire departments have the luxury of picking the cream of the crop from the candidate pool, because there are so many applicants. So, I want to challenge you personally, to continually give conscious attention to everything you do on a daily basis. To every decision you make. And, if you find yourself in a situation with friends who are hanging out, smoking pot, or doing anything that would give the fire service a bad image, then leave and explain to your friends why you can’t be in that environment. This is also your opportunity to seek out new friends that will help support you in this journey, not hinder it.

If all of your friends party and smoke pot or worse, you will be disqualified by association because it shows a lack of responsibility and poor judgment on your choice of friends. That’s how this stuff works. One second you’re on the top of the list, and the next second, you get that letter from the HR department saying you’re no longer being considered for a position.

Final Thought

This is your future and your career. Thinking about how you conduct yourself now, before you are hired will go a long way with the investigator. The investigator wants you to succeed, but if it’s determined that you aren’t responsible, or make poor personal decisions and exercise poor judgement, you will be out right after your initial interview with the investigator. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. Don’t be a statistic. Be successful.

As always, I’m thankful to be helping you and guiding you in your journey and I look forward to meeting you one day or hearing that you’ve been hired on your target department. So, go out and live your life like you are a firefighter and make the choices in your life that reflect those you want to be and you will earn your badge.