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. So, what is the CPAT and how can you prepare for it if you have no firefighter experience?
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 persons physical ability to do the job of a firefighter. While no amount of testing can prepare someone for what they might face, this eight stage physical test brought some of the more common physical elements into one test. This article isn’t about why the CPAT was created, but if you like, you can read more about the history of the CPAT.
So, the CPAT is composed of eight (8) stages, or stations, of physical testing that simulate the tasks that a firefighter might perform while on the job. There are some basic things you can do in order to begin to prepare yourself physically for this test, such as making sure your cardio is strong and your physical strength is good also. 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 are really wanting to practice, I strongly encourage borrowing a weighted vest from someone, or purchasing a 50LBS Adjustable Weighted Vest
to practice with. You can make your own, however it probably isn’t as reliable as having your own. Plus you would be able to modify the weight and use it for physical conditioning after you are hired, or sell it.
Here are each stage and some information related to each stage that you can do in order to 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 an 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 + 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 an 165 lb rescue mannequin through a course. You must drag it 35 feet, then 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.
Here is a great video about the CPAT test and what it entails:
CPAT TEST PREPARATION GUIDE (.pdf download)