While firefighting itself is typically very similar from community to community, the courts have ruled that each community must analyze its own needs and develop a physical firefighting test designed to meet them.
In general, the physical firefighting test is designed to measure your ability to perform typical firefighting duties. You will be expected to wear typical firefighter clothing or equipment of similar weight, which is typically 50 to 75 pounds.
If you want to get a good score, you must be physically fit and familiar with the events where you will be tested. You should obtain as much information as possible about the requirements of the physical examination.
A good first step
A good first step is to determine if there will be a training program for the test. You should also find out if you can practice with the actual equipment that will be used in the test. If the answer is yes, then you should make a strong effort to get to the training location and experience the testing event. Many municipalities use the CPAT, or Candidates Physical Abilities Test.
The cities and counties that use this test usually offer candidates the opportunity to watch a film about how the exam is structured and what you need to do to take the events effectively. If your community uses the CPAT, be sure to make arrangements to view the film and be prepared to take notes on appropriate techniques and actions.
Before the physical examination, find out from the testing center, the fire brigade or the human resources department which restrictions may apply to the respective event.
Questions you should answer about potential restrictions
How is the test graded? Will it be a pass/fail test or will there be a grade?
Will there be a firm deadline for completion? Your test can have a total time to complete all events, or a specific time for each event. For example, the CPAT has a total time for all events – 10 minutes and 20 seconds. On the other hand, the New York City physical ability test has a specific time interval for each of its eight individual events.
If the test is a speed test, what time do you need to achieve to get the highest score? How much time can you take to get a passing score?
What types of personal protective equipment do you need to wear? Or will this equipment be excluded from use during the test?
How can you know the beginning and end of each event? In other words, what constitutes a successful completion of each test event?
Finally, are you given a rest period between events? And if so, how long does the rest take?
While you might think you can prepare for the physical exam with exercises like pull-ups, weightlifting, push-ups, etc., that’s not the case. The exercise program you follow to prepare for a firefighter’s physical exam must prepare your body to twist, bend, jump, run, lift, and carry heavy weights.
Although this exam varies from community to community, there are some events where you will almost certainly get tested. Below are 10 of them. Note, however, that these are only summaries of events. For full descriptions you will need a book such as Barron’s Firefighter Exams or Firefighter-Written Tests-Physical Exams by Robert Andriuolo
1. Carry hose/tool. This event tests your ability to lift a fire hose weighing approximately 50 pounds from an elevated position or off the ground and then carry it a distance of 75 to 250 feet. You may also need to climb stairs while carrying the hose.
2. Hose Drag/Hosing Line Push This test is used to measure your ability to pull (move) the hose a distance of 50 to 200 feet.
3. Hose feed. The hose pull test measures your ability to work and pull a fire hose in a confined space over 50 feet or more. It is designed to simulate moving a hose into a fire area.
4. Hose coupling. In this test, you will attach a female hose coupler to a male coupler on a fire hydrant while standing up. This measures your ability to connect a hose to a fire hydrant or other hose fitting. You may have to do this multiple times and carry a 25-pound pack while taking the test.
5. Hose Jack This test, which measures your ability to pull the hose up the outside of the building or to an upper floor, is usually performed while standing. The event is considered complete when the hose reaches a specified end point. You may need to wear an air tank during this test.
6. Stair Climbing/High Rise Event. The purpose of this event is to test your ability to climb stairs while carrying firefighting equipment such as a hose, nozzle, hand tools, etc. This may involve carrying hand tools, a spare air bottle, or a length of folded tubing. You have to climb about three to six flights of stairs to a given stopping point while carrying gear that weighs about 25 pounds. It is possible that you will have to do this two or three times and wear an air pack while performing the test.
7. Climb ladder. This event is designed to measure your ability to climb a 20- to 24-foot ladder. You may be required to carry an air bag or tool when conducting this event. You may also need to descend the ladders at the top level, walk around the ladder, climb back up, and then climb down the ladder.
8. Ladder Lift. This test measures your ability to lift a ladder from a horizontal position to a vertical position. You pick up one end of a 20- to 24-foot ladder and then raise it from the horizontal to the vertical position, using a wall or other fixed point for support.
9. Ladder extension/hoist. The Ladder Extension/Lifting Test is designed to measure your ability to apply a pulling force to lift the overhead portion of an extension ladder. You are in a standing position and pull a pull rope down until the fly ladder is extended three to six rungs. You may also need to lower the fly ladder.
10. Carrying Ladders/Carrying Equipment. In this test, you start from a standing position and lift a 10- to 20-foot-tall ladder, then carry it a specified distance to a predetermined endpoint. The purpose of the test is to simulate lifting a portable ladder from the side of a fire engine and then transporting it to the scene. You then place the ladder either on a stand or on the ground. You then lift equipment off the floor, a cabinet, or a shelf and carry it around a loop for about 150 feet and return to the starting position where you either place the equipment on the floor or place it back in the cabinet back on the shelf.
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