Getting into firefighting shape is not easy. Before you even qualify for the academy you need to pass the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT). This test is meant to put you through the different physical challenges that will mimic everyday situations you'll find yourself in on the job. This tests your cardiovascular and muscular endurance, strength, and mental toughness.


The entire test is comprised of eight different events that must be completed - in less than ten minutes. The faster you complete the test, the better score you get, and the closer you are to becoming a firefighter.


The eight different CPAT events are:


Breaking Muscle Shop

1. Stair Climb


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While wearing a weighted vest (to replicate the equipment you’ll be carrying during your fire calls), you will be required to do a stair climb for three minutes straight with a sixty-step-per-minute pace.


2. Hose Drag


You start this event with a 200-foot hose line over your shoulder and across your chest. You then run or walk while dragging it 75 feet around a cone, then continue running or walking for 25 more feet. You then drop to one knee and pull the remaining hose line the final fifty feet.


3. Equipment Carry


This event is to test your ability to carry power tools around the fire scene. After picking up two saws (one in each hand), you walk 75 feet around a cone then return 75 feet to the starting position.


4. Ladder Raise and Extension


This event tests your ability to take a ground ladder out of the truck and extend it to a roof or window. After picking it up and anchoring it against the wall, you must extend the ladder until it stops, then lower it back to the starting point.


5. Forcible Entry


This test measures the candidate’s ability to force open a locked door or break down a wall. Using a sledgehammer, you’ll be prompted to hit a spot on a measuring device while keeping your feet in good position.


6. Search


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To mimic searching for a victim with limited visibility, you must crawl through a tunnel maze full of obstacles. Keep in mind that you will be gassed and be met with not only obstacles but also dead ends. You will have to maintain your special awareness throughout.


7. Rescue


To mimic the removal of a victim or partner, the next task requires you to drag a 165-pound mannequin 35 feet, then go around a cone and return 35 feet back to the starting point.


8. Ceiling Breach and Pull


The last event will be used to mimic breaking and pulling down a ceiling to check for fire extension. With a pike pole in hand, you will push the tip into a weighted (60lb) portion of the ceiling three times, then be required to pull a weighted (80lb) portion five times.


Upon achieving a competitive score with this (along with passing the written portion) you are qualified to gain entrance into the fire academy. The academy can range anywhere from two to six months in length, depending on your area.


The CPAT test is an entrance requirement. It is meant to weed out people who are not qualified, while testing your limits in a controlled environment. I cannot stress enough that these are minimum requirements. If you cannot pass this exam you are not qualified physically to be a firefighter. The order of the events is meant to not only mimic the demands of the job, but the actual order of events that happen at the scene of a fire.


You heart rate will increase as you pull up to a working fire, and if you are out of shape you will be out of breath before you even put on your mask. Once in the fire, you will be met with sometimes zero visibility and have to navigate your way through a search for a victim or to look for the fire. If you are out of breath or disoriented, you won’t be thinking clearly. Things can go from bad to horrible in seconds and you can find yourself in a sticky situation.


Whether you’re about to take the CPAT test, go into the academy, or go into your tenth year as a firefighter, never forget the laser focus you had along the way when preparing for your career. It’s a focus you may never see again, but as long as you always use it as a reminder and attempt to stay close to this physical and mental shape throughout your career, you will be a lot better off.


In my next part of this series I will outline how to prepare for the CPAT test and the academy to ensure that you will be on track to a long, strong, and safe career. 


Photo 1 see page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo 2 courtesy of Shutterstock.