Becoming a Firefighter: The Candidate Physical Ability Test (page 2)
Firefighting is a physically demanding profession. It requires flexibility, cardiopulmonary stamina, and muscular strength and endurance.
Most municipalities administer firefighter physical ability exams to ensure that candidates possess the physical capabilities to perform the duties of the firefighter efficiently and safely. The tasks that make up the physical ability exam are designed to measure a person's stamina, agility, strength, and coordination. Regular exercise and proper nutrition are very important in maintaining overall health and the ability to train for and pass the physical firefighter tests. Candidates should also practice the specific skills that are part of the exam.
Many municipalities have adopted the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT). This test, which was established as a joint venture by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), consists of a sequence of eight separate events along a predetermined path. When administered correctly, the CPAT allows fire departments to obtain a pool of trainable candidates who are physically able to perform fireground activities.
Municipalities that do not use CPAT have historically conducted physical ability exams designed to evaluate similar attributes. Running, jumping, lifting weighted objects, handgrip strength, balance, agility, endurance, and overall conditioning are some of the areas measured. Be advised that it is in the best interest of a municipality looking for new recruits to formulate a physical ability test that clearly demonstrates applicability to the job of firefighting.
This article focuses on the CPAT and provides a brief discussion of ways to prepare for the CPAT through several exercise and fitness programs.
Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) Events
The CPAT is a pass/fail test of eight sequential events to be completed in a maximum total time of 10 minutes and 20 seconds. CPAT events require the candidate to wear a 50-pound vest to simulate the weight of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and personal protective clothing (PPE). Throughout all events, candidates must wear long pants, hardhat, work gloves, and footwear. The sequential events include:
Ladder raise and extension
Ceiling breach and pull
The eight events are performed in a logical sequence that simulates the duties performed on the fireground, but the test allows for an 85-foot walk to recover between events. The stair climb, hose drag, and equipment carry are the preliminary steps required to begin fighting a fire. The ladder raise and forcible entry constitute the beginning of interior firefighting operations. The search and r escue events follow, simulating life-saving techniques and abilities. The final event, ceiling breach and pull, mirrors overhaul (looking for hidden fire) operations that are commonly performed subsequent to the fire being extinguished.
As stated previously, all eight events must be completed within the 10 minute and 20-second time frame of the test. If the candidate does not complete the events within that time frame, he or she fails the test.
Preparing for the CPAT
In its eight events, the CPAT evaluates a candidate's flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, stamina, and muscular strength and endurance. These attributes can be enhanced through exercise programs, some of which have been developed specifically for CPAT, as well as through good nutrition.
The Flexibility Exercise Program was developed by the IAFF and IAFC to assist firefighter candidates in preparing for the flexibility part of CPAT. It includes a series of stretching exercises involving the muscles of the legs, chest, back, shoulders, and arms designed to increase flexibility.
Cardiopulmonary stamina exercises enhance a candidate's cardiovascular fitness and general health. Cardiopulmonary endurance is the ability of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to carry oxygen to the muscles of the body. Exercises are designed to enhance both the aerobic (oxygen utilization) and anaerobic (oxygen debt) body systems.
Aerobic training involves moderate-intensity exercises that are sustained over a prescribed period of time (30 minutes or more). Aerobic exercise should be performed four times per week. While actively engaging in these exercises, a person's heart rate should be between 60 percent and 85 percent of his or her maximum target heart rate. (You can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.)
During aerobic exercise, your body uses oxygen to burn glycogen and fat for fuel. Cardiopulmonary benefits gained from aerobic training include increased lung capacity, enhanced oxygen efficiency, stronger heart muscle able to pump a greater quantity of blood per beat, better circulation of oxygen throughout the blood system, and a reduction in recuperation time.
Effective aerobic exercises include running, jogging, walking, dancing, cross-country skiing, swimming, bicycling, skating, aerobic exercise classes, circuit training, martial arts, treadmill, and stair climbing.
Anaerobic training involves high-intensity, short-duration exercise. While actively engaged in these exercises, the heart rate should be between 75 percent and 100 percent of one's maximum target heart rate. Maximum intensity exercise is generally performed within a one- to three-minute time frame. Anaerobic training should be performed two to three times per week. Interval training involving a repeated series of exercises interspersed with rest periods (wind sprints, for example) is an excellent way to improve anaerobic endurance.
During anaerobic exercise, your body burns glycogen for fuel. Anaerobic exercise increases the amount of time that a person is able to perform at maximum intensity and also boosts the amount of glycogen that is stored in the muscles.
Examples of anaerobic exercise include heavy weight lifting, sprinting, jumping rope, racquetball, handball, boxing, and team sports (basketball, soccer, football).
Muscular Strength and Endurance Circuit Programs
Muscular strength and endurance circuit programs that include weight training and calisthenics have been developed by the IAFF and IAFC to assist firefighter candidates in preparing for the CPAT. Circuit training-sequential activities performed with a rest period not to exceed 30 seconds between exercise stations-has been proven to be a very effective and efficient way to enhance muscular strength and endurance. It is recommended that the candidate taking a CPAT follow the IAFF/IAFC Flexibility Exercise Program as well as the Weight Training Circuit Workout and/or Calisthenics Training Circuit Workout.
The Weight Training Circuit Workout is designed to increase strength and endurance. The candidate is required to lift a weight resistance for 10 repetitions at each station. These exercises are designed to be performed three times per week. At first, complete only one circuit per workout. As strength and endurance increase, however, strive to complete three circuits per workout.
The Calisthenics Training Circuit Workout incorporates exercises designed to be performed anywhere without weights. These exercises should be performed daily. As with the Weight Training Circuit Workout, start off completing one circuit per workout and strive to complete three circuits per workout as general fitness increases.
The food we eat affects our overall well-being and energy level and plays a very important role in the health and efficiency of our body systems. A body carrying excess fat forces the heart to work harder and poses many health and performance risks. The amount and type of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats consumed and the intake of vitamins and minerals are essential to maintaining a healthy body.
Good nutrition and exercise work hand in hand to help provide a lifestyle that promotes good health. This is reflected in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's newest food pyramid guide. It encourages people to exercise regularly (symbolized by a stick figure running up stairs) and make healthy food choices. View the food pyramid atand refer to the links provided for information about good nutrition.
For a firefighter candidate, good nutrition provides an essential basis for the physical, psychological, and intellectual skills needed to succeed in the required examinations-and in being a successful firefighter.
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