Firefighters need to be physically ready for a challenge at a moment’s notice.

Firefighters. They’re quick to arrive at the scene of a crisis and need to act fast to save people’s lives. Oftentimes, these professionals are in great shape — and that’s because their jobs depend on it, and they have to go through some of the most intense training around.

For most people, living an active lifestyle is a choice we make, but maintaining a high level of fitness isn’t optional for firefighters. Engineer Charles D. Lightfoot III of Oakland Fire emphasizes how seriously firefighters like himself approach their training:

“A unique situation and challenge that I, and all firefighters, face is that the degree to which I can push the thresholds of my strength, endurance, mental and physical abilities could be the difference between going home to my family or not. It could determine whether I’m able to help someone else stick around for their family or not. It’s not as simple as working out to look fit for me —

“I work out because it may be the difference between someone living or dying.”

The exact type of physical test firefighters are required to pass varies state to state, but there’s something in common that all firefighters require: functional fitness. These folks need great balance, strength and endurance — all of which are vital qualities needed to perform required tasks, including:

  • Lifting patients and heavy equipment
  • Moving quickly and dexterously
  • Climbing stairs and crouching
  • Navigating uneven terrain
  • Quickly vacating an unsafe scene, if necessary
  • Breaking down doors or obstructions

The Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT)

The firefighter Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT), which was developed by the International Association of Fire Fighters, is one of the most widely used physical tests for firefighters in training. It consists of eight grueling events designed to test a candidate’s readiness for the job.

The test is a good indicator of whether a candidate possesses a high, well-rounded level of fitness. Charles D. Lightfoot III says that having balanced abilities is key:

“As far as our training is concerned, firefighters really focus on strength and endurance training. It’s not enough for a firefighter to be a hulk who can lift three or four hundred pounds if they can only do one rep. It’s also not enough to be able to run for hours on end if they don’t have the strength to pick up a tool. Firefighters need to have both strength and endurance over time. Those are the aspects that the CPAT was specifically developed to test.”

To simulate the weight of equipment and protective clothing that a firefighter wears on a call, candidates are required to wear a 50-pound vest and add an additional 25 pounds for the stair climb.

The following eight events must be completed in succession in under 10 minutes to pass the CPAT:

  • Stair Climb: The candidate must walk on a stair-climbing machine at a set rate of 60 steps per minute for three minutes without stopping or grasping the handrail.
  • Hose Drag: The candidate proceeds to the hose drag, where they must drape a hose across their shoulder or chest and drag it for 75 feet, make a 90-degree turn around a marker, and continue for an additional 25 feet. Upon reaching the end point, the candidate must drop to at least one knee and pull the hose until the hose’s 50-foot mark crosses the finish line.
  • Equipment Carry: The candidate proceeds to the equipment carry, where they must remove two saws from a tool cabinet and carry one in each hand for 75 feet around a marker and back to the starting point. They must place the saws on the ground, pick up one at a time, and place them back into the designated cabinet.
  • Ladder Raise and Extension: The candidate proceeds to the ladder raise and extension, where they must walk to the top rung of a 24-foot extension ladder, lift the unhinged end from the ground, and walk it up in a hand-over-hand fashion until it is stationary against the wall. The candidate then proceeds to a prepositioned and secured 24-foot extension ladder, stands with both feet within a marked box, and extends the fly section hand over hand until it hits the stop. Finally, they must lower the fly section in a controlled fashion to the starting position.
  • Forcible Entry: The candidate proceeds to the forcible entry test, where they must use a 10-pound sledgehammer to strike a measuring device until a buzzer is activated.
  • Search: The candidate proceeds to the search event, where they must crawl through a tunnel maze measuring approximately three-feet high, four-feet wide, and 64-feet long with two 90-degree turns. Throughout the tunnel there are several obstacles and areas where the dimensions of the tunnel are reduced.
  • Rescue: The candidate proceeds to the rescue simulation, where they must drag a 165-pound mannequin 35 feet, make a 180-degree turn, and continue another 35 feet.
  • Ceiling Breach and Pull: The candidate proceeds to the final event, which uses a pike pole and mechanized device to measure overhead push and pull force. They must remove the pike pole from a bracket, stand within a designated boundary, and place the tip of the pole on a painted area of a hinged door set into the ceiling. They must push the 60-pound hinged door with the pike pole three times. Then, they must hook the pole to an 80-pound ceiling device and pull down five times. Each set consists of three pushes and five pulls, and the candidate must repeat the set four times.

The above fitness test only captures a snapshot of the rigors firefighters face in the line of duty. Once a candidate passes the CPAT, it’s just as important for them to maintain a high level of fitness with an ongoing conditioning plan.

For everyday exercisers, tests can serve as a challenge to push your fitness and a goal-specific exercise routine can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle. If your performance needs improvement, focus your training on improving your cardiovascular ability, overall strength, balance and mobility. Soon, you’ll be on your way to feeling fit for duty.

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