Becoming a Firefighter: Candidate Physical Ability Test Events
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 chapter 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:
- Stair climb
- Hose drag
- Equipment carry
- Ladder raise and extension
- Forcible entry
- 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.
Event 1: Stair Climb
This event simulates the carrying of one length of bundled hose up flights of stairs. When operating at fires, firefighters often climb stairs and ladders wearing full PPE and carrying equipment.
During this event only, candidates are required to wear additional weight (two 12.5-pound weights on the shoulders) and to walk on a StepMill, which is situated between a wall and an elevated platform, at a stepping rate of 60 steps per minute for three minutes. The handrail of the StepMill opposite the wall is removed. Prior to beginning the timed event, each candidate performs a 20-second warm-up at a rate of 50 steps per minute. There is no break between this warm-up period and the actual timed test event. If the candidate falls or dismounts the StepMill three times during the warm-up period, he or she fails the test. If the candidate falls, grasps any of the test equipment, or steps off the StepMill during the timed event, the test is concluded and the candidate fails the test. The candidate is only permitted to momentarily touch the wall or handrail for balance. At the conclusion of this event, the shoulder weights are removed and the candidate walks 85 feet to the next event.
Event 2: Hose Drag
This event simulates firefighters stretching and deploying hose lines from the fire apparatus into the fire building and around many obstacles (doorways, furniture, stairwells) inside the building while maintaining a low posture.
During this event, the candidate grasps a six-pound nozzle attached to four lengths (200 feet) of attack hose (1 1/2 inch diameter), places the hose over the shoulder and across the chest (maximum 8 feet), and drags the hose 75 feet along a marked path (cones) to two pre-positioned 55-gallon drums that are secured together and weighted. The candidate makes a 90-degree turn around the drums, continues an additional 25 feet, and then drops to at least one knee at the finish line. While kneeling, the candidate must then pull the hose across the end line. If the candidate fails to go around the drum, goes outside the marked path, or does not keep one knee in contact with the ground within the marked-off area while pulling the hose across the finish line, the test is concluded and the candidate fails the test. After completing the event, the candidate walks 85 feet within the established walkway to the next event.
Event 3: Equipment Carry
This event simulates removing tools and equipment from the apparatus and carrying them to and from a point of operation.
During this event the candidate removes two 32-pound saws from a tool cabinet, one at a time, and places them on the ground. The candidate then picks up both saws, one in each hand, and carries them 75 feet around a drum and then back to the starting point. The candidate then places the saws on the ground, picks up each saw one at a time, and replaces them in the designated space inside the cabinet. If the candidate drops either saw on the ground during the carry, the test is concluded and the candidate fails the test. The candidate receives one warning for running; a second infraction constitutes a failure. The candidate then walks 85 feet within the established walkway to the next event.
Event 4: Ladder Raise and Extension
This event simulates firefighters' use of portable ladders to reach and access windows, balconies, and roofs of fire structures. This event uses two portable 24-foot aluminum extension ladders, one ladder is lying on the ground and hinged at one end to a wall and the other ladder is secured in a vertical position. During the event, the candidate lifts the ladder on the ground by the unhinged end and walks underneath the ladder while raising it to a stationary position against a wall. The candidate then proceeds to the other ladder and stands in front of it with both feet inside a marked-off area and extends the fly section of the ladder hand-over-hand until it hits the stop. This concludes this event.
If a candidate misses any rung during the ladder raise, one warning is given; the second infraction constitutes a failure. If the ladder is allowed to fall to the ground or the safety lanyard is activated because the candidate completely releases the grip on the ladder, the test time is concluded and the candidate fails the test. If during the ladder extension, the candidate's feet do not remain within the marked-off area, one warning is given; a second infraction constitutes a failure. The candidate walks 85 feet within the established walkway to the next event.
Event 5: Forcible Entry
This event is designed to simulate the critical tasks of using force to open locked doors or breaching wood, masonry, and brick walls.
During this event, the candidate uses a 10-pound sledgehammer to strike a forcible entry machine calibrated to measure the cumulative force of 300 pounds of pressure based on the effort required to force open a door. The candidate's feet must remain outside a toe box assembly. The forcible entry machine is mounted 39 inches on center from the ground (typical location of a standard exterior door knob). If the candidate does not maintain control of the sledgehammer and releases it from both hands while swinging, it constitutes a failure. A candidate who steps inside the toe box is warned, a second infraction constitutes a failure, the test is concluded, and the candidate fails the test. A buzzer and signal lamp denote the completion of this event. After the buzzer is activated, the candidate places the sledgehammer on the ground. The candidate then walks 85 feet to the next event.
Event 6: Search
This event simulates the firefighting task of searching for victims inside an unpredictable area (fire building) with limited visibility. Firefighters often crawl low while searching in heated areas, moving around furniture and other obstacles in total darkness (smoke environment).
During this event, the candidate crawls on hands and knees through a dark tunnel maze that is approximately 3 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 64 feet long, with two 90-degree turns. At various locations in the tunnel, the candidate must maneuver around, over, and under obstacles. At two additional locations, the candidate is required to crawl through a narrowed space where the dimensions of the tunnel are reduced. The candidate's movement through the maze is monitored. This event ends upon exit from the tunnel maze. A candidate who requests assistance that requires the opening of the escape hatch or opening of the entrance or exit cover fails the test. The candidate who completes this event then walks 85 feet to the next event.
Event 7: Rescue
This event simulates the removing of a victim or injured firefighter from the fire scene around obstacles to a safe area.
During this event, the candidate grasps a 165-pound mannequin (the minimum weight a firefighter must be able to drag to meet the physical demands of the job) by one or both of the harness shoulder handles (simulating the shoulder straps of a firefighter's SCBA) and drags it 35 feet to a pre-positioned drum. The candidate then makes a 180-degree turn around the drum and continues to drag the mannequin an additional 35 feet totally across the finish line. The candidate is not permitted to grasp or rest on the drum or to drop and release the mannequin to adjust his or her grip. One warning is given if the candidate grasps or rests on the drum at any time; a second infraction concludes the test, and the candidate fails the test. This concludes the event. The candidate walks 85 feet within the established walkway to the next event.
Event 8: Ceiling Breach and Pull
This event simulates the task of breaching and pulling down a ceiling to check for hidden fire and fire extension.
During this event, the candidate removes a pike pole from a bracket and stands within an area inside the framework of the equipment. The candidate places the tip of the pike pole on the target area (a ceiling assembly eight feet above the ground containing a hinged door and handle) and pushes up (breaching action) on the hinged door with the pike pole three times. The candidate then hooks the pike pole onto the handle of the ceiling assembly and pulls downward five times. The candidate repeats the set (three pushes and five pulls) four times. The standard ceiling height of a residential structure is eight feet. The force required to breach the ceiling is 60 pounds and the force required to pull the ceiling is 80 pounds. Three breaches followed by five pulls will provide a four-foot by eight-foot examination opening within a structure. One warning is given if the candidate drops the pike pole to the ground. A second infraction constitutes a failure. The event and the total test time end when the applicant completes the final pull stroke repetition.
Final Note: Candidates who attend CPAT practice sessions and who participate in physical training prior to the actual physical ability test have a higher passing rate than candidates who have not prepared.
Click here to learn more about how to train for the CPAT events.
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