Would-be firefighters test their physical readiness

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, October 25, 2005

So you think you want to be a firefighter?

Six applicants and one probationary firefighter answered thecall Thursday to participate in the Brookhaven Fire Department’sfirst full simulation of the Candidate Physical Ability Test.Twelve people who have put in applications with the department wereinvited.

“We’re doing this to let them know what firefighters gothrough,” said Fire Chief Bob Watts. “There is no promise ofemployment. All of this is for their benefit to see what they’ll befacing.”

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In the test, candidates are required to complete – within 10minutes 20 seconds – eight activities that simulate aspects offirefighting. A person must complete the CPAT before entering thesix-course certification program at the state Fire Academy.

“You can’t get into the firefighting class without passingthis,” Watts said.

For that reason, passing a test like Thursday’s is an importantfactor in employment decisions, Watts said. Passage is not awritten requirement or the only factor, but the chief said it wouldbe a “waste of the city’s money” to hire someone knowing he or shecannot complete CPAT.

“If I were looking at somebody, I’d want to be able to pass this- or at least be real close to passing it with some work,” Wattssaid.

Richard Tucker, a 28-year-old probationary firefighter hiredrecently after completing a scaled-back CPAT simulation, was thefirst on the course Thursday. He failed to complete the test,stopping in the next-to-last event.

“The stair climbing got me,” Tucker said as he breathed heavilyin shade near the course set up behind the Brookhaven RecreationDepartment.

The first part of the test is staying on a stair-steppingmachine for three minutes 20 seconds. Throughout the test,candidates wear a 50-pound vest, plus an additional 25 pounds forthe stair work.

“Your legs are like jelly when you get off,” BFD Capt. JamesDykes said.

Tucker said he will need to improve his leg conditioning beforegoing to the Fire Academy in December. Watts remained confidentthat Tucker could pass the test.

“He’s got some work to do,” the chief said.

Other components of the test include a hose drag; equipmentcarry; ladder raise and extension; forcible entry; search; rescue,in which a 165-pound mannequin is dragged 35 feet; and ceilingbreach and pull.

Watts said the CPAT has been a Fire Academy requirement fourabout four years.

Lt. Shane Hannah was the first Brookhaven firefighter tocomplete the CPAT. He said CPAT is a real good test of afirefighter’s abilities and the local test is a “grade A”simulation of the state physical exam.

“It’s real close. Everything’s built to specs,” Hannah said.

There were a few differences between the local test and the oneat the academy.

Instead of hitting a mechanism attached to a wall, localapplicants swung a sledgehammer at wood blocks to simulate theforcible entry component. Also, in the search event, localapplicants went through metal frames covered with blue and browntarps to simulate crawl ways and other narrow spaces.

Lt. Buddie Thibodeaux said the stair machine was donated by theHuman Performance Co. and Brookhaven firefighters made the ceilingbreach apparatus themselves. He touted the test’s influence ingauging firefighter applicants’ abilities.

“This is good,” Thibodeaux said. “It weeds out those who don’treally want to do it and gives you a better candidate for the firedepartment.”

As he waited his turn, 19-year-old applicant Sam Brister, ofBrookhaven, said the CPAT is “doable.”

“This is what I want to do – to be a professional fireman,”Brister said.

Brister completed the course in almost 13 minutes. Some eventsalso were not performed in the correct manner, which would haveresulted in his failing the test.

“I’m all right,” said Brister as he rested, and then he added,”I’m hurting all over.”

Brister acknowledged he would have to do better in the future,but he was proud of his first effort.

“I’m proud of myself,” he said. “I wanted to give up, but Ididn’t.”

Later, Kirby Ebbers, 35, of Brookhaven, blew through the course the seven minutes and 45 seconds. He smiled and joked with firefighters as he rested.

“It’s pretty tough,” Ebbers said of the course. “It’ll definitely weed out the weak.”

Earlier, Timothy Miller, 42, of Bogue Chitto, watched as Tuckerwent through the course. He said he had taken a one-weekfirefighting course at Delgado Community College in Louisiana whileworking offshore.

“I’ve never done anything like this,” Miller said.

Miller said the BFD course would allow him to familiarizehimself with what would be expected as a firefighter.

“You don’t know until you try,” Miller said.

Miller stopped after a few minutes on the stairs.

“I didn’t think it’d be that hard,” Miller said.

Miller said he wanted to continue the test but was unable toafter the stair work. He said he plans to keep trying and hopes todo better in the future.

Watts said there is another group of people who have put inapplications with the Fire Department. He said he planned toevaluate Thursday’s test performances and invite the second groupto participate at a later date.

The chief said the local CPAT exam would be a “good thing” inevaluating firefighter applicants.

“I think it’s opened a lot of people’s eyes on how tough it is,”Watts said.