One of the hardest parts of becoming a firefighter is to prepare yourself physically for the entrance physical testing. It used to be that many departments would have their own standard physical test, variations of ladder climbs, hose drags, running and more. However, with more departments realizing that creating and designing their own testing took a lot of time and opened them up to liability issues, the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) is gaining in popularity. The CPAT is the general physical agility test for departments on either side of the border.
The CPAT was created and developed by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) as a means of creating a pre-entrance physical exam that was a good measure of a person's physical ability to do the job of a firefighter. While no one test can prepare someone for what they might face, this eight stage physical test brought some of the more common physical elements into one test.
To pass the CPAT one needs to be in shape and possess a high cardiovascular fitness level, high level of strength and to know the techniques. The average time completing the CPAT test is between nine and ten minutes, twenty seconds and is composed of eight (8) stages, or stations, of physical testing that simulate the tasks that a firefighter might perform while on the job. During the timed test, you are required to wear a 50 pound weighted vest to simulate the additional weight that you would have on from the gear and SCBA. If you really want to succeed at the test, borrow or purchase a 50lb Adjustable Weighted Vest to practice with.
Most people who fail the CPAT, fail the very first event (Stair Climb/Stair Stepper), or run out of time while completing the last event (Ceiling Breach). People who run out of time at the breach and pull lost a few seconds at all the prior event stations because they paused and thought of how to do the event or paused to slow down and catch their breath.
Here is a recap explaining the stages and information related to each stage so that you can prepare for it.
You will climb, or simulate to climb, steps at a rate of 60 steps per minute for 3 minutes. This is often done either on a step climber machine or with a step box. This is also done with an additional 25 pounds of weight added to you to simulate the weight of carrying a high-rise pack.
To prepare for this, you should either use a step box or stair climber machine to get the feel for the rate. While it might not sound like a rapid rate, it is. If you have knee issues or problems, you should start off working this without wearing the weight vest.
Ladder Raise and Extension
This exercise will simulate raising a ladder to a building and extending it to a window. The ladder is a 24 foot two-fly extension ladder that you must use only the rungs to raise it to the building and also raise and lower the fly in a controlled manner. Working with weight training, you can prepare by doing pull-ups, military presses and lat-pulldowns, just as some examples to help strengthen your upper body.
The hose drag station simulates several items. First, you must pick up and walk with a 1 3/4″ line and drag it at least 50 feet. Then, you must make a turn, usually around a barrel and go an additional 25 feet. Now, you must drop down on your knees and drag an additional 50 feet of hose to you. Might not sound like a lot, but this is a whole body workout situation. Prepare for this with some leg training and also some more upper body workouts.
You will carry two saws 75 feet and back. There are some particulars about moving the saws and carrying them, so check with your local department for their particular test requirements. Upper body strength and proper lifting techniques are required for this.
For this exercise, you will use a 10 pound sledge hammer or maul and strike a target until a buzzer activates. Pretty simple and straightforward, keep hitting! Strong upper body, back and good body mechanics will help you pass this station.
You will crawl through a 3′ by 4′ tunnel that is 60 plus feet in length. This simulates moving in a confined space, around obstacles and through narrow openings. There isn’t much, other than crawling through a test station for this, that can simulate this. Check with your local department for practice test days or the ability to practice someplace.
The rescue drag simulates dragging a 165 lb rescue mannequin through a course. You must drag it 35 feet around a drum and then an additional 35 feet. Strong upper body and leg strength is a must here. Grip strength is critical also. Use your legs on this one to help you drag the dummy. It helps!
This station requires that you push and also pull with a ceiling hook that is used to pull down a ceiling. This requires strong arms, shoulders and upper body in general. The push portion is against a 60 lb door in the ceiling and the pull portion is usually around 80 lbs as well.
There are several other things that go along with the CPAT stations in general, such as walking distances between the stations, timing, errors (such as missing or making mistakes) that can cause time penalties or even failure. You need to check with the department about specifics for their CPAT test and make sure that you understand the steps and what can cause you to fail each station. (Point Roberts uses a modified version of the CPAT.)
Before attempting the test, spend the prior 3-5 months concentrating on your cardiovascular health, strength training and eating properly. Consider hiring a professional personal trainer to get a fitness regime started in the right direction.