Surviving the CPAT

The CPAT is the Candidate Physical Ability Test. Many departments use it to test applicants to make sure they are up to the physical rigors of firefighting. It’s a standardized test, so the major components are the same no matter what department you’re testing for. In fact, many departments contract out the testing to entities such as the National Testing Network

I’ve taken it for two different departments. Although each event and distance between them were the same, there were small differences that made one more challenging than the other (such as being outside vs an air-conditioned bay). So if you live in a hot climate, be prepared by hydrating really well for the few days leading up to the test.

When you come for the test, wear some sneakers and sweat pants and no loose jewelry. They will issue you a helmet, gloves, and a 50 lb weight vest that you wear for the entirety of the test.

The test is split into eight separate events, designed to simulate real fire-ground activities. The test is also timed. You have to make it through each activity (without any failures) in the prescribed time of 10:20.

Here’s a breakdown of each event:

1. The Stair Climb

You’re already wearing a 50lb weight vest. For this event they velcro another 25lbs to your shoulders. The idea is to simulate climbing stairs in full turnouts with a high-rise pack on.

You get a 20 second warm-up period at 50 steps per minute (spm) where you can hold the railing or whatever you need to do to get comfortable.

At the end of the 20 seconds, they tell you the test is beginning. The rate of the stepper increases to 60spm. You can no longer touch the wall or the railing. If you grab the railing to hold yourself up, you fail. If you stumble briefly, they give you a warning.  I recommend you grab tightly onto the vest and just get into the zone. You have to keep up this pace for 3 minutes.

At the end of 3 minutes they tell you the event is concluded, and you may grab the hand rails to step down. They pull the weights off you and you can begin to walk to the next event. Your legs will most likely feel like jelly at this point, but you need to walk as quickly as you can. You cannot run. If you do, you will be warned.

2. The Hose Drag

As you jelly-leg the 85 feet to the next course… This event simulates dragging an uncharged hose from the truck to the fire.

You need to put the nozzle over your shoulder and drag the hose 75 feet, make a right turn, and then go another 25 feet. When you get to the end, you turn around and pull 50 feet of hose into the finish area with you.

This challenges your cardio, leg strength, back muscles, grip, and overall endurance.

3. The Equipment Carry

At this event you have to take 2 power saws from a cabinet about chest-height, and place them on the ground. They really only have to both touch, then you can walk. You have to walk 75 feet around a drum, and go back to the start. When you get back, you place them both on the ground (same as before), and then put them back in the cabinet.

Careful, as after the first two events, these saws can be heavy, and with the gloves on, you may have trouble holding on to them. If you drop a saw, it’s an automatic fail. Hang on!

4. Ladder Raise and Extension

The next prop is actually two. There’s one ladder that will be laying on the ground, and another one fastened to the wall. You walk to the end of the ladder that’s on the ground and away from the wall. The other end is on a hinge. Lift the unhinged end and walk it up until it is flat against the wall. You have to raise it rung by rung and cannot touch the beams. When you get it against the wall, you step over into a marked area to extend the ladder that’s fastened to the wall. You have to raise it and lower it in a controlled fashion. If the halyard (the rope) slips from your hands or you drop the ladder, it’s a fail.

Hang on!

5. Forcible Entry

At this prop, there is a block on a stand at about waist height. Your job is to hit it with a sledgehammer to simulate forcing a door or wall. You will have to hit anywhere from 5-20 times, until the buzzer sounds. The two that I did seemed very different. The first one I did took 12 hits, the second, only 6. If you lose control of the sledgehammer, it’s a fail. This one challenges your upper body strength and endurance, as you’re well into the test now, and will probably start to feel fatigued.

6. Search

This event simulates a victim search in zero visibility. There is a tunnel that you crawl into and as you go in, they drop a black-out cloth over the entrance so you can’t see where you’re going.

As you progress through the tunnel, the vertical profile may change, forcing you to crawl on your belly. There will no doubt be obstacles you have to crawl over or around, and you make your way to the other end.

This one really isn’t that bad unless you’re claustrophobic, or don’t like being in pitch black. (If so, this might be a career-decision moment for you).

7. Rescue

This was the hardest event for me. By the time you get here, you’re pretty gassed, and also depending on how tall you are and your style of moving the dummy, the head may bash you in some sensitive areas 🙂

There is a 165lb dummy with a harness on it, and you have to drag it 35 fee to a drum, around the drum, and all the way back to the finish line.

Sounds easy enough, right?

8. Ceiling Breach and Pull

This prop simulates breaching and pulling down a ceiling with a pike pole. A pike pole is a long pole with a pointed end and a hook on it. You have to lift up a door 3 times, then use the hook to pull down a lever 5 times to make one rep. You have to complete 4 reps. Also, the doors that you push and pull are weighted.

Tucson Fire Department has a great CPAT preparation guide that has some information on how to train to be ready for it.

I the biggest thing you can do to prepare yourself is cardio cardio cardio. Endurance is a big part of this test. There is some strength to be sure, but if you’re gassed right after the stair steps, the next 7 minutes are going to be pure hell for you.

Here is a training guide called “Secret to CPAT” that is currently free on kindle. 

Here is a training guide called “Mastering the CPAT” 

Here is the CPAT orientation video also


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