While firefighting itself tends to be very similar from community to community, the courts have ruled that each municipality must analyze its own needs and develop a firefighter physical test designed to meet them.
In general, the firefighter physical test will be designed to measure your ability to perform typical firefighting tasks. You will be expected to wear typical firefighter clothing or equipment of similar weight which is usually 50 to 75 pounds.
If you want to achieve a good score, you will need to be physically fit and familiar with the events in which you will be tested. You should get as much information as possible about the requirements of the physical exam.
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, you should make a strong effort to get to the training site and experience the test event. Many municipalities are using the CPAT or Candidates Physical Abilities Test.
Those cities and counties that use this test usually provide candidates the opportunity to view a film on how the exam is structured and what you need to do to perform the events effectively. So, if your municipality uses the CPAT, be sure to make arrangements to view the film and be prepared to take notes on proper techniques and actions.
Before you take the physical exam, find out from the testing agency, fire department, or human resources department what restrictions may be imposed for each event.
Questions you should try to get answered about possible restrictions
How will the test be graded? Will it be pass/fail test or will there be a grade?
Will there be a set time limit for completion? Your test may have a total time to complete all events or a specific time for each event. The CPAT, for example, has a total time for all events — 10 minutes and 20 seconds. On the other hand, the New York City physical abilities 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 kinds of personal protective equipment will you be required to wear? Or will this gear be excluded from use during the test?
How can you know the beginning and the end of each event? In other words, what constitutes a successful completion of each test event?
Finally, will you the allowed a rest period between events? And if so, how long will the rest be?
While you might believe that you can prepare yourself for the physical exam by doing exercises such as chin-ups, weight lifting, push-ups, etc., this is not the case. The exercise program you undertake in order to prepare for a firefighter’s physical exam needs to prepare your body for twisting, bending, jumping, running, lifting, and carrying heavy weights.
Although this exam does vary from municipality to municipality, there are some events on which you will almost certainly be tested. Listed below are 10 of them. However, keep in mind these are only summaries of the events. For complete descriptions you will need a book such as Barron’s Firefighter Exams or Firefighter- Written Tests- Physical Exams by Robert Andriuolo
1. Hose/tools carry. This event tests your ability to lift a length of fire hose weighing about 50 pounds from an elevated position or from the floor and then carry it for a distance of 75 to 250 feet. You may also be required to climb stairs while carrying the hose.
2. Hose drag/hose line advancement This test is used to measure your ability to drag (move) hose a distance of 50 to 200 feet.
3. Hose advancement. The hose advancement test is to measure your ability to work and drag a fire hose in a confined space for 50 feet or more. It is to simulate moving a hose into a fire area.
4. Hose coupling. In this test, you will attach a female hose coupling to a male coupling on a fire hydrant while in a standing position. This is to measure your ability to connect a hose to a hydrant or another hose fitting. You may be required to do this several times and to wear a 25 pound pack while performing the test.
5. Hose hoist this test, which is to measure your ability to pull hose up the outside of the building or to an upper floor, is usually done from a standing position. The event is considered completed when the hose reaches a designated endpoint. You may be required to wear an air tank during this test.
6. Stair climb/high-rise event. The purpose of this event is to test your ability to climb stairs while carrying such firefighting equipment as a hose, nozzle, hand tools, etc. It may include the carrying of hand tools, a spare air cylinder, or a length of folded hose. You will be required to climb approximately three to six flights of stairs to a designated stop point while carrying equipment which will weigh approximately 25 pounds. It is possible that you will be required to do this two or three times and wear an air pack while performing the test.
7. Ladder climb. This event is designed to measure your ability to ascend a 20- to 24-foot ladder. You may be required to wear an air pack or to carry a tool while performing this event. You may also be required to dismount the ladders at the upper height, walk around the ladder, remount, and then climb down the ladder.
8. Ladder raise.. This test is to measure your ability to lift a ladder from a horizontal position into a vertical position. You will pick up one end of a 20- to 24-foot ladder then lift it from the horizontal to the vertical position, using a wall or another fixed point as a brace.
9. Ladder extension/hoist. The ladder extension/hoist test is to measure your ability to apply a pulling force to raise the fly section of an extension ladder. You will be in a standing position and will pull a haul rope downward until the fly ladder is extended three to six rungs. You may also be required to lower the fly ladder.
10. Ladder carry/equipment carry. In this test, you will start from a standing position and lift a 10- to-20 foot ladder and then carry it a specific distance to a predesignated endpoint. The purpose of the test is to simulate lifting a portable ladder from the side of a fire apparatus and then transport it to where it will be used. You will then place the ladder on either a rack or on the ground. You will then lift equipment from the floor, a cabinet, or a shelf and carry it approximately 150 feet around a loop, returning to the starting position, were you will either place the equipment on the ground or back in the cabinet are on the shelf.