Candidate Physical Ability Test

The Fire Service Joint Labor-Management Task Force successfully developed the Wellness-Fitness Initiative in 1997 to address the need for a holistic and non-punitive approach to wellness and fitness in the fire service.

After discovering municipalities were hiring people who would not be physically capable of a successful career in the fire service the task force unanimously agreed to create a physical ability test for pre-employment testing of candidates. The task force developed and validated the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT), resulting in a consistent test for hiring firefighter candidates.

Developing the CPAT

The Task Force directed the Technical Committee to develop a performance test for the ten jurisdictions that measures the critical skills of fire fighter candidates. Committee members reviewed six of the ten jurisdictions job analysis and job task surveys. They also reviewed each of the ten jurisdiction's current candidate performance tests and job descriptions.

Additionally, a complete equipment and demographics survey was also completed by the ten jurisdictions. The equipment survey provided types and weights of all fire fighter protective clothing, protective equipment, fire department equipment and fire department tools. It also assessed the average weight of fire fighters in each jurisdiction as well as the average weight of emergency room and hospital admitted patients. Demographic profiles of each jurisdiction were also developed.

Using the data collected, the Committee then derived a list of 31 tasks to investigate. They developed survey questions directly related to these 31 tasks. The critical and physical task skills that all fire fighters should possess were validated (through questionnaires) by 1,000 fire fighters from the ten departments. Selection of the 1,000 fire fighters was random and anonymous, but consistent with the race and gender diversity of the specific department. The completed results of the surveys resulted in the development a series of physical ability tests that were selected based on the results of the data indicating the physicality and criticality of the tasks performed by fire fighters.

Props for each event were built and modified to obtain the necessary information regarding candidate's ability. The props were then placed in a sequence that would best simulate their use in a fire scene. The Technical Committee chose to move the candidates along a predetermined path from event to event in a continuous manner requiring a mandatory walk between events.

Because of the test set up, individual event times would be an ineffective measure of a candidate's ability, so an overall test time needs to be established. Numerous individuals were run through the test including: technical staff members, incumbent fire fighters, lay people and a recruit class.

The overall consensus found the test to be a good predictor of an applicant's ability to perform basic fire fighting tasks. The Technical Committee was confident that the ability test would provide the fire service with a physically competent recruit. There was also unanimous agreement that the test equaled or was superior to current test run by each of the ten jurisdictions.

These tests were filmed at different speeds and presented to supervisors in the 10 jurisdictions (captains and battalion chiefs with experience in fire fighter training). At the completion of this process an entry test was finalized and presented to the Task Force for adoption. The Task Force unanimously adopted the full Candidate Physical Ability Test with a pass/fail time of 10 minutes and 20 seconds. The test may only be administered on a pass/fail basis, municipalities may not rank candidates based upon CPAT completion times.

Administering the CPAT

In developing the CPAT Program, the Task Force recognized that the fire department should reflect the community it serves. In today's society, communities are increasingly diverse and fire fighters are continually challenged to operate in multi-cultural environments. The goal of the CPAT is to test for those individuals physically qualified to perform the job of fire fighter without separating from the department's broader goal of attaining a properly trained and physically capable workforce whose members reflect the diversity of the community. Diversity should never come by lowering validated entry standards. Rather, it should come from actively recruiting qualified men and women candidates from all racial and ethnic backgrounds for careers in the fire service. It is the position of the IAFF/IAFC Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative Task Force that fire departments should increase the diversity of their workforce by actively recruiting candidates from throughout their communities rather than lowering candidate physical ability standards. The CPAT Program details avenues fire departments can pursue to raise awareness of job opportunities and to recruit and mentor qualified candidates within the fire service before the test is administered.

The CPAT goal was to develop a fair and valid evaluation tool in the selection of fire fighters to ensure that all fire fighter candidates possess the physical ability to complete critical tasks effectively and safely. This CPAT Program covers every aspect of administering the CPAT: from recruiting and mentoring programs, to providing recruits with fitness guidance to help prepare them for the CPAT, to setting up and administering the test. The entire validation process is discussed in detail, as well as the legal issues that departments might face when implementing the actual program.

After a municipality has completed all aspects of recruiting and mentoring candidates they may administer the actual eight-event test. During the entire test the candidate must wear a 50 lb. weighted vest (simulating the weight of a fire fighters protective clothing and equipment). The eight events are:

  • >Stair Climb (climbing stairs while carrying an additional 25 lb. simulated hose pack)
  • Ladder Raise and Extension (placing a ground ladder at the fire scene and extending the ladder to the roof or a window)
  • Hose Drag (stretching uncharged hoselines, advancing lines)
  • Equipment Carry (removing and carrying equipment from fire apparatus to fireground)
  • Forcible Entry (penetrating a locked door, breaching a wall) and
  • Search (crawling through dark unpredictable areas to search for victims)
  • Rescue Drag (removing victim or partner from a fire building)
  • Ceiling Pull (locating fire and checking for fire extension)