Do Firefighters Have To Take A Polygraph? − Here’s The Answer!

If you look forward to becoming a firefighter, you need a clear idea of the entire process. And as you might know, you need to go through many tests. 

But do firefighters have to take a polygraph? If so, do all fire departments require a polygraph?

Not all firefighters need to take a polygraph. It helps the hiring team verify all the information the applicants provide during the process. Some of the departments require it, while others do not.

But that’s just a short snippet on do firefighters take a polygraph. If you really want to know it all, you should keep on reading!

Do Firefighters Have To Take A Polygraph

What Is Polygraph Test?

So, does a polygraph test makes becoming a firefighter with a criminal record impossible? Not really. This test does not strictly focus on your track record. To truly understand its purpose in the hiring process, you need to know what it is.

Basically, a polygraph test is a lie detector test. It utilizes a machine that monitors and measures individuals’ physiological responses when responding to a question. To detect the level of truthfulness, it relies on some key factors, such as –

  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Sweat rate

How Does a Polygraph Test Work?

Generally, the test will be divided into four different segments, which are –

  • Pre-Test
  • Interrogation phase
  • Examination
  • Post-test

The interviewer will explain the test process during the pre-test and interrogation phases. As the name suggests, the interrogation phase includes questions applicants must answer. The same thing applies examination part.

How Does a Polygraph Test Work

However, in the examination phase, the applicant must answer a series of yes or no answers while being connected to multiple senators. Finally, in the post-test part, the examiner will analyze the session results and give feedback to the examinee.

Accuracy, Reliability, and Controversies of Polygraph Tests

The use of polygraph tests is pretty widespread in the professional field. But are they accurate? Independent tests have found that they are 80 to 90 percent reliable. But there are studies that claim that accuracy is much lower, around 50%.

According to American Psychological Association, the accuracy of polygraph tests relies on the context. For example, in 2012, the organization found that the test tends to be less accurate when the stakes are high.

In contrast, the organization claims that the results of the polygraph tests are high in lower-stakes situations.

So, as a professional, employers tend not to rely on the data from polygraph machines. Instead, they see the machine as a tool that gives an indication of whether the applicant might be lying.

Why Would Firefighters Need Polygraph Tests?

As you know, some fire departments will require you to take a polygraph test. That might make you wonder why a firefighter must take a polygraph test. Well, the common reasons are as follows –

Pre-Employment Screening and Internal Investigations

There are a lot of requirements that an applicant need to fulfill to become a firefighter. For example, there is a specific age limit for firefighters. And anyone can lie and claim that they meet these criteria.

Through polygraph tests, fire departments can dictate whether the applicant has fulfilled the employment form correctly.

Compliance With Regulations

Some of the fire departments strictly adhere to the regulations of the state. And the rules of particular states make polygraph tests a must. That’s why specific fire departments require applicants to undergo a polygraph test during recruitment. 

Security Clearances

Polygraph tests might be used by the departments to dictate whether the applicant is fit for the role. After all, firefighters need to take on a lot of responsibilities. And any applicant can lie about their past experiences, which is a security concern.

Moreover, polygraph tests can uncover topics such as sabotage, espionage, and terrorist activities. These help fire departments assess the applicants better.

Evaluating Fitness for Duty

Although not common, some departments may use polygraph tests to determine the firefighter’s fitness. For example, it can come into use to check whether the applicant has a disability that will make them unfit for the role.

Incident Investigations

Other than employment, departments may use polygraphs to investigate a particular incident. It helps them to determine the level of truthfulness among the employees.

Common Types of Questions Asked During a Polygraph Test for Firefighters

The questions asked during a polygraph test will vary from one department to another. And the questions will also depend on the context of the test. But, in general, these are the common ones –

Criminal History

The interviewer may ask specific questions to dictate whether the applicant has a criminal history. That includes illegal sexual practices as well.

Drug and Alcohol Use

Yes, dope tests can tell the departments all they need to know about the applicant’s history with drugs and alcohol. But the questions related to this in the polygraph test offer a quick answer to the matter.

Work History

There can be questions regarding the work that the applicant has been involved with in the past. These can be followed up with questions revolving around the reasons for leaving the previous job.

Policies and Procedures for Administering Polygraph Tests to Firefighters

Like the questions, the policies and procedures for administering polygraph tests for a firefighter will vary. But here are some factors that will give you a rough idea regarding the matter –

  • Applicants are generally given notification before they are monitored with a polygraph machine.
  • The potential firefighter will receive proper info regarding the test before they take it.
  • Although not common, the polygraph test may be conducted by a private agency and not by the staff of the fire department.

Examples of Firefighting Agencies that Require Polygraph Tests

Not all fire departments require applicants to take polygraph tests. But there are some notable ones that do. Take a look –

Little Elm Fire Department

Applicants are generally required to take a polygraph test. It’s part of the fire department’s background investigation process.

Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD)

Is there a polygraph for LAFD? Yes! To be exact, applicants are required to go through this test before employment. So, prepare ahead if you are planning to get into LAFD.

Houston Fire Department

The Houston Fire Department utilizes polygraphs to screen criminal history, drug use, and other related issues that may affect the performance of the applications.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why did I fail a polygraph when I told the truth?

If you answered the firefighter polygraph test questions truthfully and still failed, you must understand that the test is unreliable. In addition, you could have been too nervous while answering the questions. Also, polygraphs tend to misinterpret questions that revolve around the applicant’s past trauma or negative experiences.

2. Does the Austin fire department use polygraph?

Austin Fire Department does not use polygraph tests to employ firefighters. The recruitment process does not have any mention of the test. 

3. What is the FBI job lie detector test?

The FBI job lie detector test is basically a polygraph test. It is administered to FBI employees and job applications, which dictates whether the individual post a national security risk. 

4. What are the consequences of failing a polygraph test for firefighters?

In the worst case, the consequences of failing a polygraph test will result in you not getting hired. And if you are asked to appear for the test during the employment period, you could get terminated.

5. Can Polygraph Tests Be Cheated?

Polygraph tests are not 100% reliable. Their accuracy is highly questionable. In fact, there are ways to cheat the test!

Final Words

So, do firefighters have to take a polygraph? In short, not all fire departments require a polygraph test. But the ones that do basically utilize it as a tool to determine the honesty of the applicants.

Moreover, like you, the fire departments know these tests are unreliable. For that reason, they tend to analyze the results thoroughly.

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