Firefighters are responsible for saving lives when fighting fires or responding to medical emergencies. It’s the key component of the job so the answer to “do firefighters get drug tested?” shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
Firefighters will almost always be drug tested as part of the hiring process. They may also be drug tested after a vehicle accident, if they are showing suspicious behavior, or sometimes even at random.
The procedures and timelines for this process can vary. Let’s take a look at drug testing for firefighters. Here is what you need to know.
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Also read: Can You Be a Firefighter with Past Drug Use?
Do Firefighters Get Drug Tested?
There are three basic categories of firefighter when considering who gets drug tested:
- Firefighters for a standard fire service. If you want to work as a firefighter then you will face a drug test during the selection process.
- Volunteers for a standard fire service. If you think that volunteering gets you out of the drug test, think again. Fire departments will test a volunteer during selection too.
- Wildland firefighters. A drug test will not apply to all wildland firefighters; however, it may be used as part of the selection process and if so, you will get 24 hours’ notice prior to being required to report for drug screening.
Drug testing is expensive, however, and it’s not unknown for some agencies to skip the drug-test process but rest assured, the odds are pretty good that the fire service itself will test you sooner or later.
Why Do Firefighters Get Drug Tested?
Well, it ought to be obvious but taking drugs can impair your reaction times, your decision-making and even impact your ability to face certain situations.
That means that a firefighter under the influence of drugs is a danger to themselves, to their crew, and to the public.
A drug test is therefore a very important part of selecting a firefighter and if you want to habitually use recreational drugs, the fire service is not the career for you.
You don’t wanna be like these firefighters… (joke)
When Do Firefighters Get Drug Tested
There are five common scenarios under which you will be drug tested:
- Suspicious Behavior
- Return To Work
- Accidents or serious incidents
1. Drug Testing For Firefighters During Hiring Process
The best time to deal with a problem is before it arises. No fire service wants to hire recreational drug users.
This is a job that gives you responsibility for the safety and lives of other people, when you use drugs, you’re putting those people in danger and potentially, your actions could even lead to their deaths.
You have some constitutional protections against being drug tested once you’re employed and drug testing cannot be arbitrary after you take up work for the fire service.
However, it’s important to note that this protection does not apply to pre-employment scenarios, and thus, it’s a no-brainer to conduct drug testing at this point in someone’s career.
You can ask the fire department that you are applying to work for if they conduct such testing and if so, which drugs they will test for.
It’s then up to you to decide what matters to you in life, the chance to serve your community or the chance to serve your desire for recreational highs.
2. Drug Testing Firefighters Due To Suspicious Behavior
While the fire service cannot subject firefighters to mandatory drug testing at set intervals, it is permitted to drug test an employee whose behavior leads their superior officers to believe that they are on drugs.
If this happens, you will be given 24 hours notice of a drug test and you will be expected to turn up for the test, no matter what.
A firefighter who fails a drug test will normally face immediate dismissal.
The fire service does not need to give you a drug test if you are caught distributing, purchasing, using, etc. illegal drugs by law enforcement.
This is grounds for immediate dismissal too.
It’s important to note that in these cases, being fired from your job is probably the least of your worries as you will also face any criminal penalties required under the law too.
As you can see, it’s a bad idea to join the fire service if you intend to use illegal drugs, sooner or later, you’re going to get caught.
3. Drug Testing Firefighters On Return To Work
If for any reason, a firefighter is suspended from work or takes a longer period of absence from work, they may be required to take a drug test on return to work.
They may also be required to take such a test if they have admitted to drug use in the past.
This is a legally protected activity.
Again, if you fail the drug test, you’re going to lose your job.
4. Drug Testing Firefighters Due To Accidents/Serious Incidents
You’re also likely to be required to take a drug test in the event of any serious accident or incident at work.
This is true whether the misfortune happened to affect you or whether it impacted someone else (e.g. another crew member or member of the public).
Also read: Do All Firefighters Have to Drive the Truck?
5. Random Drug Tests
It’s also worth noting that due to the hazardous nature of firefighting, the fire department may be (not in all areas) legally entitled to use random drug testing.
In some departments, this right may never be used, in others, you should expect to be tested annually or every two years.
Which Drugs Will A Firefighter Be Tested For?
It should come as no surprise that drug testing encompasses all illegal drugs which can be tested for.
So, from ecstasy to marijuana to crack cocaine, etc. it doesn’t matter what your choice of an illegal substance is – they’ll be looking for it.
They will also test your blood alcohol level. Yes, though alcohol is perfectly legal, you must be free of the influence of alcohol when you are working as a firefighter. Alcohol interferes with both decision-making and reaction times.
A breathalyzer test may be administered at any time if you’re suspected of being under the influence of alcohol, and you will not be given 24 hours notice for this test.
A firefighter who is drunk on duty is as much in dereliction of that duty as a firefighter that is high on duty and their employment will be terminated.
Finally, you will also be tested for a range of prescription drugs that fall into the “controlled substances” group. This can include opiates, amphetamines, anabolic steroids, and more.
How Long Does It Take For Drugs To Leave A Firefighter’s Body?
It is worth noting that most drugs take several days before they leave no further trace in your blood and urine and thus, with 24 hours notice of a drug test, you’re likely to test positive if you’ve been using.
You can find charts online that indicate the approximate time it takes for a given drug to leave your system, we’d note that these numbers are always average times for people in peak physical health and that it can take far longer for a drug to leave your system than these charts indicate.
What About Marijuana?
Yes, cannabis is now legal for medical use in more than 30 states and for recreational purposes in nearly 20 states.
However, firefighters are not allowed to smoke or consume marijuana on or off duty, even in places where the consumption of marijuana is legal.
If you fail a drug test for marijuana even in states where marijuana is legal, you will lose your job as a firefighter.
Is it possible that this might change in the future? Yes.
Do we have any indication if or when this will change? No.
For now, marijuana is off-limits to firefighters. End of story.
The exception to this rule is that firefighters can use CBD oil, but only if it is an “isolate” product, a full-spectrum CBD oil contains THC which is a banned substance for firefighters.
Can I Be A Firefighter If I Have Smoked Marijuana In The Past?
Marijuana stays in the body for a long period of time. Sometimes months after it has been consumed. If you take a drug test and you test positive for marijuana, you will not be accepted to the fire service.
However, if you once had a puff of smoke when you were 18 and you decided it wasn’t for you, and now you’re applying to the fire service at the age of 21? You’re not going to fail the drugs test.
Just don’t start smoking weed again once you’ve been accepted to the fire service.
What About Nicotine?
Nicotine is a drug but it’s not a banned substance for most fire departments.
However, there are often strict rules around the consumption of nicotine products while firefighters are on duty and smoking can have serious health impacts in the long-term which may prevent you from passing fitness tests, etc.
So, while you won’t be drug tested for nicotine, we’d recommend that any individual serious about working in the fire service either never start smoking or that they quit smoking today.
Life’s too short to throw it away on cigarettes.