Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 19, 2013

Ashland added as firefighter physical testing site

CNHI News Service

ASHLAND — As part of a new national law effective Jan. 1, 2014, all career firefighters must pass the Candidate Physical Ability Test before being hired by a department.

Ashland Fire Department Deputy Chief Greg Ray and Chief Scott Penick requested for the Kentucky Commission to bring the test to Ashland to help make the certification process more convenient for the area.

Prior to this, the only other fixed testing sites were in Winchester and Louisville.

Ray said the AFD currently has 26 eligible for hire who need to take the test and supply tangible proof of certification before coming on board.

Professional firefighters are not required under the new law to be CPAT certified by Jan. 1.

“We’re actually in our hiring process right now ... All of our candidates, if they don’t already have their (certification) card, they’re going to go through the assessment,” Ray said.

However, CPAT certification is not required for volunteer firefighters.

The purpose of the test is to ensure new employees are physically capable of withstanding the strenuous conditions of fighting fires, calling on them to be able to perform tasks of climbing several flights of stairs under the weight of their gear, busting through doors and ceilings, crawling through dark mazes and more.

Throughout the test, participants are dressed in gloves, hard plastic helmets and 50-pound vests comparable to the weight of the Self Contained Breathing Apparatus they wear.

Both Ray and Kentucky Commission Coordinator Rick Larkins said the leading cause for death among firefighters are heart attacks, induced by the stress of their operations.

“It’s one thing to go out and jog and do some exercises. It’s another thing to put on all our equipment and carry that along with you while you’re working. Even with the air master, you’re not sucking in oxygen like you would if you were outside running,” Ray said.

Larkins said they tested people from Hazard to Somerset Thursday at the Ashland Fire Department.

The most difficult obstacle in the course: the stairmaster.

“They have to do three minutes and 25 seconds on there with 75 pounds of weight,” he said. “They have a 50-pound weight vest and when they get ready to get on the machine, they’re given an extra 25 pounds on their shoulders.”

He said this simulates climbing flights of stairs while carrying a hose bundle on their shoulders.

Though each task in the course is designed to resemble real fire scenarios, Larkins said it still doesn’t compare to being in the actual moments of fighting a fire.

“We tell them in orientation, ‘If you think this is tough, you haven’t seen nothing yet,’ because when you wake up from a dead sleep in the middle of the night, you have to hit 100 percent on that truck,” he said.

This test has become available to all firefighters free of charge and at no cost to the departments, covered under Governor Steve Beshear’s state budget.

Larkins said the cost for the CPAT equipment averages about $68,000.

“I’m very proud that in the state of Kentucky we took that step forward in saying that physical fitness for a firefighter is important,” he said.

CPAT certification not only readies firefighters for a professional career, but is also transferrable to anywhere in the United States.

“Before, every fire department had a different physical agility test. Some were unfair, some departments were being sued, candidates said (these tests) had nothing to do with the job, but this takes liability off the fire department and the city. We come in and test them free of charge and they’re ready to go anywhere in the U.S.,” he said.

Women sometimes struggle to muster the physical strength needed to complete the laborious tasks, but Larkins said the women on the commission team try to assist them during the practices by demonstrating certain techniques.

Before the formal test, participants were oriented into the course and given the option for two practice days before the final assessment.

The Ashland Fire Department hosted two groups for the challenge Thursday, one at 9:30 a.m., the other at 11 a.m.

CPAT testing has been available in Kentucky for six years, giving candidates ample time to prepare for the 2014 deadline.

LANA BELLAMY can be reached at lbellamy@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.