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Bad Behaviors: We don't teach them, but we can avoid them

Imagine this: You_re recruiting for a new paramedic. One applicant in particular did really well on their written test during the pre-hiring process. They also did well on the skills assessment and aced the interview.

You consider checking the references the employee listed on their application. But why should you? Do you really think they_d list someone who_d give you a bad reference or an unbiased statement?„

You also don_t believe in calling the current employer. Experience has taught you that the current employer doesn_t always provide an accurate picture of the employee. In fact, sometimes, current employers are less than truthful because they want to get rid of a poor performer; sometimes, they_re less than truthful because they don_t want to lose a great performer. So to you, calling an applicant_s current employer is a waste of time.

As far as you_re concerned, everything looks pretty good with this candidate, and you decide to make a job offer.„

Unfortunately, after you hire the paramedic, you notice a pattern emerging. They_re continually late, using excuse after excuse. As soon as they accumulate enough sick leave to take off one full shift, they call in sick. And they have their share of complaints from patients. It_s one thing or another that continuously sends their name across your desk.

Get the Back Story

Here_s the first thing you should realize: Your poor performer didn_t learn all those bad habits after they started working for you. They brought the habits to the job with them.

The key for the„EMS manager then is to avoid hiring bad employees. But how do you accomplish this? Conducting extensive background checks is one way.

Because it may be time consuming for you, you can have your human resources department do background checks, or you can hire any number of companies to perform background checks on all potential employees. It_s probably some of the best money you_ll spend and one of the most important processes in hiring a new employee.

Background checks can be exhaustive and comprehensive, if done correctly. First, make sure the employee signs a release allowing you to conduct the background check and to contact the current and previous employers, plus other references. Some states require this signed release before a background check can be conducted.

Another critical resource to utilize is your state licensing agency. You need to ensure your prospective employee has a current license for their skill level and see if the state has taken any action against their license, such as a suspension or revocation. Seems logical, but some agencies skip this step.„

I recently heard of a service that hired what it thought was a licensed paramedic and later discovered the employee had nothing but an expired EMT license from another state. Because the employer never bothered to check if the employee had a valid license to perform in the state where the service operated, the unlicensed employee performed as a paramedic for more than 90 days before being caught. Unfortunately, it was after a call where the fake paramedic didn_t know how to manage a patient having a myocardial infarction, and the patient died on scene.

Next, ensure their driver_s license is valid. If your new employee were to get into a crash while driving your agency_s vehicle without a valid license, your agency would be liable for a much more serious violation than an at-fault collision alone. And while you_re talking to your state_s department of motor vehicles, check if the person has had any moving violationsƒand how many.„

Then there_s a criminal background check. You may think, How can someone convicted of a crime get an EMT or paramedic license? Believe it or not, some states do issue licenses to these individuals, depending on the convicted crime. Evaluating the findings of a criminal background check is particularly important because in some states the employer is liable if they hire an employee who goes into people_s homes on duty and commits a crime.

Be Thorough

Beyond these basic investigations, your assessment of a candidate may include military background checks, credit checks, verification of education, worker_s compensation history, review of civil court records and, if done properly, statements from current and former employers. If checking on employers, remember to also note any gaps in employment not explained during the interview; these gaps might indicate the employee is hiding something.

Remember, bad employees don_t typically start as model employees and turn bad from our influence. They already had those bad habits, and they brought them to your agency. But a thorough background check can help keep the bad apples out and yourself headache-free.

Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P, is a deputy fire chief with the Memphis (Tenn.) Fire Department. He has a total of 30 years of fire and rescue experience. He's chair of the EMS Section for the International Association of Fire Chiefs and can be reached atwww.garyludwig.com.

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