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Do Firefighters Get Drug Tested?

If you’re considering a career as a firefighter and wondering do firefighters get drug tested, the answer, unsurprisingly, is yes they do. And with no shortage of candidates, fire departments do not need to consider hiring anyone who tests positive for drugs.

Firefighters are the emergency service everyone regards as heroes. When we’re all running away from danger, firefighters are charging toward it, risking their lives to save others. Lives depend on their judgment, skills, and physical ability, so recruiting standards are extremely high.

In addition to fighting fires, fire departments respond to medical emergencies, and calls for medical help vastly outnumber calls for fires.

Let’s get into some details, and then you can decide if your lifestyle is compatible with being a firefighter.

When Do Firefighters Get Drug Tested?

Do Firefighters Get Drug Tested

As you would expect, fire departments take safety very seriously. During the firefighter recruitment process, you’ll be asked to take a drug test, and once you’re hired, you’ll face random drug tests, reasonable suspicion drug tests, post-accident drug tests, fitness-for-duty drug tests, and return-to-duty drug tests.

Drug use is not compatible with being a firefighter, and even if you can abstain for long enough to pass the pre-employment drug test, if you continue to use drugs, you’ll be caught out, eventually.

If you’re investing in your own education to obtain certifications before you apply to be a firefighter, you may have to pass a drug test to be accepted onto the EMT course, or into the Firefighter Academy.

Firefighting shouldn’t be seen as just another job, it’s a career and vocation with tremendous responsibility, so if firefighting is your calling, you can’t carry on using drugs.

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Firefighters Face Pre-Employment Drug Testing

All firefighter candidates have to pass a pre-employment drug test. The drug test could take place at the orientation for the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT), or during your physical exam.

When you apply for a firefighter position, the application form and accompanying information will inform you about the drug testing requirements in place at the fire department you’re hoping to join.

The job application form may also ask you about previous drug use, as could the Fire Academy application.

For example, the Southwest Florida Fire Academy application states that you must have been drug-free for the previous 3 to 5 years depending on the drug used.

Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing Of Firefighters

Reasonable suspicion drug testing can take place for many reasons. Any time your superior has reason to believe that you’re using drugs or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they can order you to take a drug test.

In the fire department, crew members also have a duty to report any suspicions they have about colleagues.

Signs of drug or alcohol use include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Suspicious odor on your clothing or breath
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Sleepiness
  • Anxiety
  • Hyperactivity
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Repeated tardiness or unexplained absence
  • Lack of motivation

Firefighter Post Accident Drug Testing

When you’re involved in a workplace accident, you could need to take a drug test. The exact post-accident requirements will vary between departments, but in all cases, if you have an accident that results in an injury requiring medical attention, you will need to take a drug test.

Failing a post-accident drug test can result in the most serious consequences of all because you could be denied workers’ comp benefits and find yourself with large medical bills to pay and no injury compensation.

Post-accident drug tests take place as soon as possible after the incident, and always within 24 hours.

Random Drug Tests For Firefighters

For random drug testing, all firefighters in a department are placed in a pool of candidates, and firefighters are randomly selected from that pool and required to take a drug test.

Your name remains in the pool even if you’ve already taken a random drug test, and you could be picked for multiple drug tests in any drug testing period.

Some departments prefer to carry out unannounced drug testing. An unannounced drug test is another type of random drug test, but instead of individual firefighters being selected for testing, the entire crew will be tested en masse.

With individual random drug testing, you may escape drug testing for a long time but with unannounced testing of the entire crew, a random drug test at some point during the year is guaranteed.

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Firefighter Fitness For Duty Drug Tests

A fitness-for-duty drug test is carried out during the regular medical assessment required by your fire department.

Firefighter Return To Duty Drug Tests

If you’ve previously failed a drug test and been suspended from duty while you complete a treatment program, you’ll have to pass a drug test (or a series of drug tests) before you’re allowed to return to duty.

As part of the follow-up drug testing program following return to duty, you may be required to take random drug tests on a regular basis for 1 or 2 years.

What Type Of Drug Test Do Fire Departments Use?

What Type Of Drug Test Do Fire Departments Use?

All departments will use urine drug testing at the very least, and many departments also ask for a hair follicle test.

A urine test will show recent drug use, while a hair follicle test will show drug use over the last 90 days.

Why do some departments use both tests?

Most drug use that occurred in the last week will show up on a urine screen, and marijuana use can be detected for up to 90 days if the drug is used daily. So abstaining from most drugs for a week or so is a common way to beat a urine test.

A hair follicle test won’t show recent drug use, but it will reveal drug use over a longer period. When the drug in question is marijuana even low levels of use in the past 90 days will be revealed.

Hair testing is also preferred because there’s really no way to cheat on a hair follicle test. Hair follicle testing is expensive, though, and that’s why it’s not in use at every fire department.

Being bald or having a shaved head won’t let you escape a hair follicle test. If you don’t have hair on your head, body hair will be taken instead.

Which Drugs Are Firefighters Tested For?

Expect to be tested for a wide range of illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and alcohol. Your department’s drug testing policy will usually state that any drug that can be legally tested for will be tested for if necessary.

The drugs commonly tested for include, but are not limited to:

  • Opiates and opioids
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Amphetamines and methamphetamine
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Methadone
  • Methaqualone
  • Propoxyphene
  • Ecstasy

If you use prescription drugs, you’re expected to inform your department so that a medical officer can determine if you’re fit for duty while you’re using the medication.

Without a valid prescription for the drugs you use, the use of the drug is classed as the illegal use of a controlled substance and will result in a failed drug test.

Some over-the-counter medications can also affect a drug test result, so be careful if you’re using an antihistamine or cold medication.

If your drug test returns a positive result, then a Medical Review Officer (MRO) will review your results and contact you to find out about any prescription or over-the-counter medication you’re taking that could have affected the result.

Are Firefighters Tested For Marijuana In Legal States

Are Firefighters Tested For Marijuana In Legal States

Now that weed is legal in so many states for recreational and medical purposes, many people believe they can continue to use marijuana and still pass employment drug tests.

This simply isn’t true. Most states require drug testing for safety-sensitive positions and marijuana is one of the drugs tested for.

What’s more, Marijuana is still a Schedule 1 illegal drug at the federal level, and the FDA has not approved it for medical use.

Most employers voluntarily continue to apply the federal classification in their drug use policies and if an employer receives federal funding, they must follow the Drug-Free Workplaces Act which forbids the use of all controlled substances including marijuana.

Fire departments are often recipients of federal grant money, so you should absolutely expect to be tested for marijuana.

Are You Aked About Drug Use On The Firefighter Polygraph Test?

Many fire departments use a polygraph test or voice stress test as part of their hiring process, and questions about current and past drug use are common.

Each department will have a list of questions they ask candidates, and the questions will vary, but you should expect questions similar to:

  • Have you ever used illegal drugs such as opiates, cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, barbiturates, LSD, crystal meth, or PCP?
  • Have you ever manufactured or sold drugs?
  • Have you ever misused prescription medication?
  • Do you currently use any illegal drugs?

You’ll also be asked many other questions, including questions about past criminal activity, whether you filed your income taxes each year if you have auto insurance, whether you were truthful during your interview if you’ve filed fraudulent insurance claims, been accused of sexual harassment, and many more.

Are Firefighters Tested For Alcohol?

Yes, firefighters will be tested for alcohol. Fire departments have a zero-tolerance approach to alcohol use on the job or just prior to reporting for duty.

Alcohol tests are usually breathalyzer tests, but a post-accident test for alcohol could also be a blood test.

Unlike drugs, alcohol doesn’t last for long in your body, so recreational, off duty use won’t be picked up on a test for alcohol, unless you’ve drunk an excessive amount of alcohol and are still intoxicated when you arrive at work.

The drug and alcohol use policy in force at your fire department will usually specify that you cannot use alcohol within a certain number of hours of the start of your shift.

Are Firefighters Tested For Nicotine?

Nicotine tests aren’t routinely used but nicotine use on duty is banned by all fire departments, and some have an outright ban.

You may be asked to sign an affidavit, which is a written statement made under penalty of perjury, confirming that you do not use any tobacco products, and have not used any tobacco products for at least 1 year prior to making your application.

Even though tobacco is a legal substance, it’s bad for your health and impairs your physical performance. Tobacco use can also lead to serious medical conditions which would leave you unable to do your job.

Fire departments invest a large sum of money in training each firefighter and they don’t want their investment to go to waste because of tobacco use.

Are Volunteer Firefighters Drug Tested?

Are Volunteer Firefighters Drug Tested?

Yes, even as a volunteer firefighter, you should be ready to pass a drug test. Your county or city will have a drug testing policy in place, and that will usually include pre-employment drug testing, reasonable suspicion drug testing, and post-accident drug testing.

As a volunteer firefighter, you could also face random drug tests.

Are Wildland Firefighters Drug Tested?

Wildland firefighters are employed by the United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service to fight fires and carry out fire prevention work.

Frontline firefighters work as part of an engine crew, helitack crew, hand crew, hotshot crew, smoke jumpers crew, or rappeler crew. Wildland firefighters are also employed to operate heavy equipment like bulldozers.

The United States Forestry Service doesn’t use a pre-employment drug test for temporary, seasonal hires, but permanent seasonal hires and permanent full-time candidates will need to pass a drug test. The other agencies are, however, more likely to carry out pre-employment drug tests.

All wildland firefighters are subject to random drug tests, reasonable suspicion drug tests, and post-accident drug tests.

If a pre-employment drug test is required, you’ll only be given 24 hours notice, so it’s sensible to make sure that you’re clean before you apply.

Quick Recap

Because firefighting is a job with a huge amount of responsibility and a lot of risks, fire departments take safety seriously and they will not tolerate drug use.

You’ll be tested for drugs when you enter a Fire Academy, and during the hiring process once you begin applying for jobs.

Firefighters also face random drug tests, reasonable suspicion drug tests, and post-accident drug and alcohol tests.

Fire departments screen for commonly used illegal drugs and prescription medications, using urinalysis and hair follicle testing.

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