Preliminary Firefighter Background Questionnaire

07 September 2021
Capt. Bob Smith

Preliminary Firefighter Background Questionnaire

So you take an on-line Preliminary Background Questionnaire (PBQ) and when you try to continue it flashes PERMANENT DISQUALIFICATION!  or, There Could Be a Delay in Your Background.  What happened?

Well, you probably answered correctly or incorrectly yes to a question that had a threshold that was an automatic disqualification.  You still might not be out of the woods on some of your answers.  They could come back to haunt you later in the process.  Make sure you go back and double check your answers. You would be surprised what percentages of candidates are being disqualified from this process.

The Preliminary Background Questionnaire is designed to eliminate candidates early on in the hiring process before they spend lots of time and money on those who they would tank later.

There is no question that candidates should lead their lives as if their future consideration of being hired as a firefighter depended upon it.  This is not the first department to include in the background packet that a polygraph may be used to verify the information you submit.  

I get calls on a regular basis from candidates that say the background packed and or investigator told them a polygraph would be given to verify their information. My first question, “Was it listed on the job announcement that there was going to be a poly?" No.  If it was not included in the job announcement and or they are going to give a polygraph to everyone else, that would be tough to do.  It’s not uncommon for a background investigator or psychologist to say, “Will you submit to a polygraph to verify your answers?  Or a polygraph could or will be given at the end of the process.”  As of today, I’m not aware of any test where the candidates were held hostage with the threat of a polygraph being given, when it was not included with the job announcement, and they had to take one. Not one. I know of candidates who were turned down and wanted to take a polygraph to prove they were telling the truth and they couldn’t get one because they would have to give it to everyone else.  Pinocchio why is your nose is getting longer.


So where’s the threshold?  Did you answer yes to a question on drug use?  How many times? Answer yes to a question on how many times you had drank more than the legal limit and drive? 

So what do you do?

Learn from you're experience.  Before you submit future on-line or hand out printed forms double check your answers for errors and think twice before you step on any land mines that could take you out of the process.

What others are doing?

I finally figured out that if I listed those things that happened in my life a long time ago I could be eliminated from the process.  I asked myself if I didn’t tell them, how would they find out?  Steve

This PBQ nailed me the first time I answered yes that I tried cocaine 3 times 20 years ago.  I didn’t have a chance to give an explanation as I have had sitting down with a background investigator.  Dennis

Last test I filled out the Preliminary Background hand out.  I answered yes to the question have you ever had sex with a minor.  I was rejected, even though I wrote a half page explanation that I was 18 in high school and my girlfriend was 17.  Thinking about it now how would that ever find this out?  I’m now 27, no longer live in that state, and have no idea what happened to my girlfriend.  I can’t imagine how they would find her and if they did can’t imagine she would tell them out of the blue we had sex when she was at age 17.  Andy

Why did I tell them I smoked pot 20 times 10 years ago in England?  We’re they going to fly over there and find my old friends?  Dan

Captain Bob I really enjoy receiving your emails and am looking forward to the LA City application process.  My question for you is in regard to the "Bad Stuff on Applications."  I have your book and other materials in which it states, "Do not open a can of worms."  However, in this email it states that "If you do not include information that is asked on an application and it is found out later, you are out of the process!"  Which is the correct way to go? 

For instance, I got into a fight as a youth (17 years old) protecting my brother and had to go to court where I was found not guilty and had to perform community service.  Since it was almost 10 years ago and I was a minor, is this something I should disclose on the application?  That is the only instance where I have any possible mark on my record, including traffic citations (or lack of).  Thank you in advance for your time, Rob

Although juvenile records for minors are generally sealed, the question asked if you ever; yes or no? I would put it down.  If you put no and it is revealed later, you could be out of the process. This is something that should have no effect on you being hired by a department.  What is most important is that you have a reasonable explanation of what happened and the court found you not guilty. 

Which is the correct way to go? 

Both are covered in the book. First of all what I was referring to is if there is no trail, in other words who can they talk to who would know this information? If there was an arrest, a court appearance and community time there is probably a record of that somewhere.  Then why open a can of worms by creating one.  Volunteering information that was not requested eliminates way too many candidates. 

As one candidate wrote:  As for Backgrounds, they tell you to be honest. But sometimes being honest can bite you in the ass. When a Background is being conducted the only obvious things they could find out are things like your driving, criminal and credit history. Don't be stupid and write down references that hate you. I've known some good people that should be fireman/cops but get disqualified for being too honest.

You’re a free agent.  Make sure you prepare for the hiring process in a way that will best put you in a position for a badge.  Steve

I can’t tell you what to do.  I present the facts and you get to decide.

Our thanks go out to Capt Bob Smith for his article and insight.