Can You Be a Firefighter with a Criminal Record? (Felony, Misdemeanor, 5150)

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A firefighter is a sworn-in position that requires strict employment standards to maintain public trust. Does that mean that if you make any mistakes in your life that you will never be allowed to be a firefighter? What if you have a criminal record? What if it was when you were young and the record is expunged? Do these and other offenses keep aspiring firefighters from fulfilling their dream?

Whether or not you can be a firefighter with a criminal record will really depend. Not every offense will prohibit you from being hired as a firefighter, but some certainly will. The factors affecting this decision include the number of offenses, time since it happened, what type of law was broken.

We will get into more detail about what types of wrong-doings may affect you future as a firefighter and which other probably will not. Keep reading for more information.

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Also read: How to Become a Firefighter: The Complete Guide

Can You Be a Firefighter with a Criminal Record?

A criminal record is a document that shows any crimes committed by a person. This is sometimes called a “rap sheet”. They usually include all the details of the incident.

Those wanting to become firefighters wonder, if their criminal record is not entirely clean, will they still be allowed to become firefighters? Like we said above, this really depends.

Firefighters are held to very high, professional, and personal standards. Everything they do both on and off duty is a reflection of the department they work for, as well as to the fire service as a whole.

The public, overall, has a great amount of respect and trust for firefighters. This did not come easy. This trust was earned over decades of professionalism from the firefighters before you.

So when a fire department is hiring new candidates, they are looking for individuals that have the ethical and moral standards that fit with their organization. They want to make sure you are capable and willing to uphold the standards they have set.

One way they can get an idea of who is the right fit for the standards of their department, is by history. Looking at someone’s past is a look into what type of person they are.

A criminal record will show if mistakes were made in your past. Now, just because you made a mistake, that does not necessarily mean that you can never be a firefighter.

However, it is up to you to show the department that you “own” your mistakes and have worked to move past them. You must convince them you have learned from them and will not make the same mistakes again.

Becoming a firefighter is a very competitive job market. When you are competing against thousands of other candidates for a job, most employers have lots of choices for who to hire and they can be picky. So, it will be up to you to prove to them you have moved past any wrong doings in your past.

Note: Do not think that you can get away with a past offense but not telling them during the hiring process. You will go through a very thorough background investigation and possibly a polygraph (lie-detector) test.

If they find something that you didn’t tell them about, it is almost universal a cause to be dropped from the process, even if it was a minor issue. So be honest and disclose everything. That is your best shot at getting hired.

Can You Be a Firefighter with a Felony/Expunged Felony?

A felony is a crime more serious than a misdemeanor and is classified into 4 categories.

Felony DegreeExamples
1st Degree Felonies (Class A)Murder, Kidnap, Arson, Rape
2nd Degree Felonies (Class B)Possession of controlled substance, Felony assault, Manslaughter
3rd Degree Felonies (Class C)D.U.I., Fraud, Assault and battery, Elder abuse
4th Degree Felonies (Class D)Larceny, Involuntary manslaughter, Burglary, Resisting Arrest

While there is no state or federal law saying that felons can never be firefighters, many felony convictions will prevent you from becoming a firefighter. It will be up to each individual department to set hiring rules and guidelines.

This means there is no clear, black-and-white answer to a felon becoming a firefighter. Though there are felons who have become firefighters, it is usually not allowed.

Obviously, the more severe felonies (1st degree/class A) are more likely to not be accepted in a firefighter’s record. Crimes like murder, rape, kidnapping, as far as I know, are universally disqualifying. Some areas have local laws that felonies involving “moral turpitude”, related to cheating, lying, stealing, are automatic disqualifiers.

Here is the Austin Fire Department’s, in Texas, disqualifying guidelines, which state that all felony convictions are permanently disqualifying (meaning you can never work there).

If the felony record has been expunged, will it still prevent you from getting hired? It depends. In most cases, you are allowed to not disclose a felony conviction if it has been expunged.

However, when applying for a government job (like a firefighter) or any “sensitive position”, they may be allowed to view expunged records and you will need to disclose them. Whether or not an expunged felony will prevent you from getting the job will vary by department, but you must tell them.

This video shows convicted criminals working as firefighters:

Crime Watch Daily: Convicted Criminals Turn Heroes As Volunteer Firefighters

Can You Be a Firefighter with a Misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is a crime that is classified as less severe than a felony and will usually have a less severe punishment. There are 4 levels of a misdemeanor, from the most severe to the least, they are:

Misdemeanor ClassExamples
Class 1 or Class A MisdemeanorResisting arrest, DUI with no injuries, Assault with injury
Class 2 or Class B MisdemeanorTrespassing, Assault, Prostitution, Theft ($50-$500)
Class 3 or Class C MisdemeanorReckless damage, Criminal mischief, Bad check, Theft (<$50)
Class 4 or Class D Misdemeanor (rare)Failing to attempt to return lost property, tattooing without a license

Being less serious than felonies, misdemeanors are less likely to keep you from becoming a firefighter, but they still can. It will come down to what the actual crime was, how long ago it was, did it happen multiple times, etc.

Crimes involving violence like assault, domestic abuse, battery are more likely to disqualify you than something like trespassing.

Some departments will have specific guidelines like: Class A misdemeanors are permanent disqualifiers, Class B is disqualifying for 5 years form conviction, Class C is for 2 years form conviction, etc.

Again, the best thing you can do is research each specific fire department in you area or that you want to work for. See if they have specific criteria set forth about who they will hire.

Plenty of people with misdemeanor convictions have become firefighters. If you give it time and show that you have grown and learned from your mistakes, you will have the best chance at still becoming a firefighter.

Can You Be a Firefighter with a 5150?

A 5150 is an involuntary hold in the Welfare and Institutions Code. This allows police or doctors to detain someone with mental illness against their will and place them on a 72-hour psychiatric hold in a hospital. This is usually done when a person is considered to be a danger to themselves or others or is unable to properly take care of themselves.

As an aspiring firefighter, you may wonder if having a 5150 hold on your medical record would prevent you from getting a job as a firefighter? It depends.

Some people might say that your medical record is private and protected information by HIPAA, and that is true. However, as part of the hiring process, you will be asked to sign a document releasing your medical information to the fire department doctors as part of your medical evaluation. If you refuse, they probably won’t hire you.

So, you will most likely need to disclose being placed on a 5150 hold in the past. As far as whether or not they will hire you knowing that, it will vary by department.

They are trying to determine if you are physical and mental fit and qualified to be a firefighter. They want to know that you can handle to stress and pressures of the job. Having a 5150 hold does not, by itself, mean you are not fit to be a firefighter. But, it may, in some people point to possible mental issues that could affect your abilities as a firefighter.

You will need to show the hiring department that the cause of the 5150 hold in your past is no longer an issue or is being managed properly. If you can do this, you may still be able to become a firefighter.

Can You Be a Firefighter with a Juvenile Record?

We all make mistakes. So, what if you made some big mistakes when you were a kid and you have charges on your juvenile record? Does that prevent you from becoming a firefighter? Like most topics in this article, it depends.

A lot of people seem to think that anything you do as a kid gets wiped clean or sealed when you become an adult. While this may sometimes be true, in general, the fire department will be able to see even sealed records when they perform a background check.

Whether or not they will hire you depends on the standards of each department. There are some departments that are much more relaxed and others that are extremely strict.

The most important thing is being honest. Just assume they are going to find out everything about your past, sealed or not. Because even if your record is clean, most likely someone else knows about your offenses and the background investigator will get them to talk about it, it’s what they do.

Remember, if they catch you in a lie, by not disclosing something, you have almost no chances at a job. But if you tell them about your past mistakes, own them, and show you have matured and learned from them, you may still have a shot. So tell the truth, the whole truth.

Can You Be a Firefighter with Speeding Tickets/Bad Driving Record?

bad driving record

During the hiring process to become a firefighter, every part of your history is going to be looked at. Yes, they will look at your driving record as part of the background investigation.

If you have a bad driving record, it very well could keep the fire department from hiring you, at least until enough time has passed with a better driving record.

If you have a DUI/DWI there will probably be a period of 5 years or so where they will not hire you. You need to prove you will not make this mistake again.

If you have other serious charges like fleeing from an accident or reckless endangerment, they may decide you are not worth the risk and disqualify you from a job. All these decisions will depend on each department’s standards and they will decide for themselves who to hire.

Speeding tickets are not as serious, unless you have a lot. Just having one speeding ticket will most likely not keep you from a fire job. However, many departments set specific driving record standards they will allow.

For example, Jacksonville Beach Fire Department, in Florida, says they will not hire anyone with 3 or more moving violations on their record, in the last 3 years.

Make sure to be honest, and be a responsible driver. With enough time, your record will improve and so will your chances of getting a firefighter position.

Can You Be a Firefighter with a Restraining Order?

What about a restraining order? Does that effect the ability to become a firefighter?

A restraining order is a court order that is used to protect someone from a specific person with who they have had issues. The order will clearly state what behaviors are not allowed.

They may prevent the restrained person from being allowed to call or contact the protected person. It may say the restrained person must always stay a minimum specified distance away from the protected person. These orders are usually for a specific period of time and can include many other criteria.

If a restraining order has been filed against you, it could prevent you from getting a firefighter job, but not necessarily. There is nothing stating that those who have had restraining orders can not be firefighters, however, it will certainly come up in a background check (don’t try to hide it or lie about it) and it could be a red flag to the investigator.

You will most likely need to explain the situation that led to the restraining order in detail. They also may check the details of the incident with law enforcement and the other parties involved.

Your best shot at becoming a firefighter is to be completely honest. Own any mistakes you made and show them that you have learner from and that nothing like that will ever happen again.

Can You Be a Firefighter with Bad Credit?

You might not think your credit history is important to becoming a firefighter, but it can be. The hiring process is looking to find out as much about who you are, so they can decide if you are a good fit with their fire department.

As part of the background investigation, they will usually perform a credit check on you. This is just one more piece of information about you. Just because you missed a payment or two or don’t have a long credit history, that probably won’t affect their decision. But you may have to explain whatever they find on the report, so be ready.

Just know that your credit will be looked into when trying to become a firefighter, even if it probably isn’t one of the most crucial steps.

Conclusion

Everyone makes mistakes, some bigger than others. The fire department is looking for individuals who are honest, ethical, and worthy of the public trust. The hiring process and background investigation will reveal quite a lot about each candidates past, in order to find the best people for the job.

Some serious criminal history will definitely exclude those people from firefighter jobs, but not every offense will. Do your research and stay out of trouble. Be honest and own your mistakes for the best shot at a fire badge.

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