You donít think prior drug use can make a big difference in getting hired as a firefighter, think again.

Capt. Bob,
First, I'd like to thank you for your help. I bought your seminar tapes and did some coaching with you back in 98'. It worked, I've been a firefighter with for the past four and half years.

Now, I have a question for you. I'm in the process with LAFD. I had a background interview got a letter stating I have been removed from the selection process because of failure to meet background standards (prior drug use-infrequent marijuana use over a 6 year period, experimented with cocaine and LSD). Something I admitted to during the background interview (Honest to a fault?). It also states I have the right to appeal this. In my appeal I have to include an explanation, include any supporting documentation and give justification for my return to the selection process including how I have resolved the issues and distanced myself from the behavior stated.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Paul


In fact, if a department refused to hire people who honestly admitted to having experimented with alcohol or marijuana they would have few candidates to choose from. Prior minor use should not be counted against you. But, if you admit that you have, as you did, it might.

Extensive use does raise questions. If you admitted to experimenting with marijuana 200 times will certainly raise a red flag. Experimenting with cocaine or methamphetamines is much more serious. Stating that you never used anything can raise questions. But if you never have experimented with drugs, donít feel that you need to say anything.

It is believed that because of the pressures of the job, and your past experience, you are predisposed and will return to drug use.

In LAFD appeal process you only have one shot. If you appeal is turned down, you can never test with them again.

I wish we had talked first. This is a perfect example for not creating trails where you don't have too. Those candidates who are honest to a fault in an instance like this can ruin their chances of getting hired. If you hadn't listed this, you would not be in a DQ situation now. An attorney might not be the way to go, because once you go down that path, it could **** them off and you will never get a shot at the badge. You could have an attorney help you structure the appeal and send it in yourself.

The background investigator is just trying to cover their ***. Give them a reasonable explanation of what happened.

My approach would be:

Only answer the charges that they DQ'd you on.

Take responsibility for the situation.

Stress nothing like this has happened since in the last decade. What happened was a stupid kid thing.

You have been working as a firefighter for 4 1/2 years with an excellent record. This should demonstrate how you conduct my life now. List those positive areas and qualities you possess that demonstrate you're a viable candidate.

I have seen the draft this candidate has put together. I hope to share it with you after the appeal process is completed.

Lesson learned here is don't create trails where you don't have to.

Another question:

I was wondering, what kind of information CAN background investigators dig up?? What exactly happens during a background investigation? Who do they contact and how do they get the #'s? I know that you are supposed to list references and fill out a big packet- do they ONLY contact people that I give them? Do they contact family members or just friends? Do they try to get phone numbers of people through them?

Captain Bob's reply:

While you're in background, the background investigator will pull up your credit report, a department of justice record, Social Security administration for a work history and FBI finger prints. They can check with the reference names you have provided, neighbors, fellow workers, relatives, divorced spouses (sure, they will tell them how great you are) current and previous employers. They can ask any of these people for other names they should contact.

The investigator is not your friend. Do not get chitty chatty, toss out or reveal anything you are not requested.

This answer from Tom:

Whom is this "Background Investigator"? It can be someone from the fire department, be they Chief Officer, Captain, Engineer or in some cases, a Firefighter. Could be someone from the Human Resources Department. Many fire departments use the services of Law Enforcement to do the background check.

Anything (and that does mean anything!) that you write down or speak about is fair game for the investigator to follow up on. Depending on both the department and time involved, your BI can be very basic or quite time consuming. But know that your Credit History (TRW, Equifax and so on), criminal record check (NCIC and JDIC at the minimum) military records search and employment history will be the minimum items looked into.

When I was required to have a military Top Secret clearance, the investigators showed up unannounced and knocked on EVERY DOOR in my neighborhood. You BI investigator can and may do the same.

As Capt. Bob wisely says "The background investigator is "NOT YOUR FRIEND". Keep in mind that the Polygraph Tech is "NOT YOUR FRIEND" either. Best wishes.
This is how one candidate handled his appeal for LAFD.
Great News! Hello Cap!

For more on how to appeal a DQ click here:

I've got good news. I received word this week from the appeal board stating they will be reinstating me into the recruitment process

Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me. I appreciate the words of encouragement. I just took the Biddle and finished it in 7 mins. The proctor said it was the fastest time for the day. Just wanted to share that with you. Thank you again. Pat.

Here's how we advised Pat used an attorney and approached the process:

Backgrounds board of appeals

To Whom It May Concern:

I received a letter in the mail stating I have been removed from the Firefightersí selection process for my failure to meet the background standards. The two reasons given are an arrest for passing a fictitious check (detained and released not a conviction) and a misdemeanor for using a Fake ID to receive money sent to me.

I would like to explain these two incidents:

1) Arrest for passing fictitious check. I sold some personal items and was paid close to 400-500$ dollars. A stranger answering a newspaper ad paid me. I did not know this person nor have I ever seen this person again. I went to buy some parts for my computer and was arrested for having two fake hundred-dollar bills. I was questioned and released I never heard anything about this again until now.

2) I was in Las Vegas for the week and lost my wallet. I went to pick up money sent to me through Western Union at the Casino cage and I was arrested. I tried to use a fake ID to receive the money. I went to court and paid a fine. I have never heard anything about this incident until now.

I would like to say on my behalf that I truly regret these two incidents in my life. These incidents have caused me embarrassment and guilt. Incident #1 I had no idea that I was paying with counterfeit money. I was a victim of being paid with fake money. Incident #2 I am completely responsible for the fake ID incident. I truly regret doing it. I am embarrassed by it. I can assure you that it will never happen again. These incidents happened over 8 years ago. My record has been unblemished before the two incidents and has been unblemished since then. That is not who I am.

This is who I am; this is what I have done:
Born in The City of Los Angeles
Fluent Bilingual (Spanish)
® EMT&EMT-D and Daniel Freeman/ UCLA Paramedic
® A.S. Fire Science
® Fire Academy Graduate
® Ambulance Service Emergency Medical Technician
® Paid Firefighter 3 years
® Certified as follows: Hazardous Materials

First Responder, Confined Space Rescue, Rescue Systems 1, Incident Command 100 & 200, Vehicle Extrication, SIDS, CPR, Fire Control I,II&III, firefighter 1, EMT-Defibrillator, Swift Water Rescue, and Emergency Vehicle Operator.
VOLUNTEER WORK: Muscular Dystrophy Association, Red Cross, Fire Department Explorer program, USC County Hospital, City neighborhood clean up, Toys for Tots, Elementary School stop drop & roll taught to disabled children, Elementary School stop drop & roll, and other community projects and fundraisers with Association of future Firefighters.

I have an unblemished record since those two incidents that are not me. 8 years have passed. I have proven myself and excelled at every opportunity given to me. I have respect for the law, honesty, mature judgment, and respect for others. I am familiar with the history and the high standards set by the your Fire Department and do not expect to give anything less than that. I respectfully request that you reinstate me into the selection process.
Thank you, Pat Firefighter Recruit

Bravo Pat!

"Nothing counts til you get the badge . . . Nothing!"

Fire "Captain Bob"