The Fitness Requirements for a Firefighter – Explained

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Many people have a desire to become a firefighter, but can be intimidated by the requirements, education, and tests that they would have to go through.  For a career that is as important as firefighting, a high level of physical fitness is required.

The fitness requirements for firefighters include all the tasks necessary to pass the physical agility test (CPAT). This requires good leg, back, core and grip strength, as well as above average cardio/endurance.

This may seem like a lot, and it is.  If you are going to run into a burning building, climb numerous flights of stairs, and probably drag a person or two out, then you need to be physically prepared. People wonder how much weight they need to be able to lift as a firefighter?

I want to take the time to explain the fitness requirements of being a firefighter, in detail, as well as what you will be tested on, so you have an idea of what will be expected.  

Also read: Is There A Weight Limit For Firefighters?

How Much Weight Does a Firefighter Have to Be Able to Lift?

person doing a barbell back squat

While I wish I could just tell you a number and be done with it, it isn’t quite so simple. When talking about the amount of weight a firefighter needs to be able to lift and carry, you have to take into consideration a number of factors.

  • People:  On top of the gear, there is always a possibility that you will need to carry a person out of a burning building.  There is never a guarantee of how small or large a person will be, but for training requirements, you will need to be able to carry at least 150 lb safely.  You may need to carry them a distance so keep that in mind. 
  • Hose:  Along with gear and people, a firefighter needs to be able to manage their hose-lines. They are especially heavy and difficult to move when they are charged (full of pressurized water). Even when they are not charged, hoses can weigh between 40 and 60 lbs. Candidates will be required to carry them while they are rolled up, hooked up, and spraying water in order to pass the fitness tests. 
  • Ladders:  Firefighters have to be able to carry a ladder, place it where it is needed, extend the ladder to full length, and then return it to where it goes.  These ladders can be heavy, usually about 50- 80 pounds. This will be part of the fitness test and you need to be prepared for any ladder your department has.

When all is said and done, a firefighter will need to be able to lift, conservatively 200 lbs at a time in various forms. 

Some of the weight will be personal protective gear (turnouts, boots, helmet, SCBA) with the addition of either hose, various tools, a person being rescued, or a ladder.

Fitness Testing

Knowing how much a firefighter needs to be able to lift is only a small part of the preparations for becoming a candidate and passing the academy. There is, of course, testing involved.  There are two tests that are the most common tests, but departments can have their own versions of these if they choose. If a candidate is prepared for one of the two most common tests, they will probably be prepared for any department’s personal test as well

The most common firefighter physical test in the US is the CPAT.

CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test)

For more detailed information on the CPAT and how to train/workout in order to pass it, read: 8 Tips for the Firefighter Physical Test: Passing the CPAT

This test is what is considered the gold standard for firefighters.  It is the most common and well known physical ability test among firefighters in the US. If you only find time to prepare, specifically, for one test, this one would be a good bet.  But what is on this test?

This is a rigorous and grueling physical test that covers eight areas. Each of these events will be done with a 50-pound weighted vest (simulating an oxygen tank), as a simulation for actual events that could happen on the job. While the time in which you complete the test will not be recorded, you do need to complete the entire course in 10 minutes and 20 seconds or less.  The events that will be required during this test are as follows:

1. Stair Climb

This event is simple, but not easy. Nothing about the CPAT will be easy. You need to prepare for all of it, even climbing stairs.

  • For this particular stair climb, the candidate will have a 50 lb vest and an extra 25 lbs on their shoulders for a total of 75 pounds of added weight.  The point of this is to mimic what it will be like climbing flights of stairs in full gear.
  • This event is performed on a stair-climbing machine.  The candidate must climb at a speed of 50 steps per minute for the 20-second warm-up.  If you get off of the climber during the 20 seconds, then you have to start over. There are only 2 attempts given. 
  • After the warm-up, the candidate must increase speed to 60 steps per minute and you cannot use the railing to support your weight. 
  • At the end of the 3 minutes and 20 seconds, you will dismount the step-mill machine, someone will remove the 25 lbs of extra weight, and you will walk an 85-foot distance on a predetermined course.   

The ways you can fail this event are pretty straight forward.  If you don’t complete the stair climb, fall, stumble, or hold on to the rails during the main climb, it will be a failing mark for this event and in turn, the whole CPAT. 

Also read: CPAT Weighted Vest Stair Climb: How To Train

2. Hose Drag

Besides the gear and the firetruck, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of firefighters is the fire hose.  This hose is very different, size-wise, from an average garden hose. They are typically made of very heavy canvas or synthetic materials, that are hard to damage.  They pump hundreds of gallons of water in a matter of minutes and are very difficult to carry and control. Just the hose can weigh up to 80 lbs, and part of the CPAT is being able to drag this hose, in different ways, a total distance of 85 feet. 

  • Carry the hose over your shoulder with the nozzle in your hand around a predetermined course toward the finish line.
  • Upon arrival at the finish line, you must take a knee and drag the hose hand-over-hand across the finish line and then continue on to the 85-foot mark.  You will have to pull 50-feet of hose in this manner. 

There are a few things that you can do that will cause you to fail this portion of the test.  If you fail to stay down on your knee while dragging the 50 feet, you will fail. A second way you can fail is if you run outside of the designated course. 

3. Equipment Carry

Firefighting requires a variety of equipment that will need to be carried to different locations depending on the location of the fire. One of the 8 events that will be required for you to pass the CPAT is the equipment carry.  This event has very specific parameters and failing to adhere to them will result in failure. The CPAT events are pass or fail and you have to do them perfectly. 

  • While this test is designed to test your speed while carrying the equipment from one location to another and then back again, you have to walk.  
  • This carry is not for your gear, though. This bit is all about testing your ability to carry the various tools that may be needed on a call.  You have to carry two tools (usually saws) over a distance of 75 feet through a path that has strategically placed obstacles. 

There are a few ways that you can fail this test. Any of these missteps will result in the failure of this section. 

  • Even though this is a speed test, running is one way to fail this test
  • Dropping the equipment that you are asked to carry, or losing control in any way, at any point, is the second way to fail.  

4. Ladder Raise and Extension

Being able to lift and maneuver the ladder into place is absolutely essential to becoming a firefighter. During this part of the test, you will use a 24-foot extension ladder to determine how good you are at placing and extending a ladder. You will be raising a ladder attached to the prop, up to the wall and extending the fly section.

Like the other events, there are a few ways you can fail this test.

  • Skipping rungs when picking the ladder up off the ground is one of the things that could cause you to fail the test.
  • If the ladder drops or you lose control and set the safety mechanism off, then you fail the test. 
  • If you lose control of the halyard rope when extending the fly
  • Leaving the designated area is a way to fail almost every event on this test. 

5. Forcing Entry

This event simulates breaking into a door or other access point when it can’t be simply opened.  The candidate has to be in control of their equipment and themselves and that is precisely what this event tests.  For this event, you must be able to wield a 10 lb sledgehammer to breach a building with blocked entrances. 

  • With a 10 lb sledgehammer, the candidate must strike the middle of the wall target that they have to breach.  
  • Strike the area until the buzzer sounds, at that point the candidate must proceed 85 feet.

There are two ways to fail this test, although one misstep may only get you a warning.  This will depend on the evaluator you have for this event. 

  • If you fail to control the sledgehammer, you will fail.  If you throw the sledgehammer or drop it during the time you are trying to breach the wall, you are guaranteed to fail.  Like so many of these events, it is imperative that you maintain control of yourself, as well as your equipment.
  • Failing to stay within the marked area can result in two ways, failure or a warning.  Depending on who is evaluating you, this could be a negative mark or a simple “don’t leave the perimeter again.”

6. Search

As a firefighter, you may be required to go into a burning building, filled with smoke, and look for people that are trapped.  This requires you to be able to go into a sometimes, small space with limited visibility. This part of the test tries to copy these types of situations. 

  • When you think of this event think a very small, dark, tunnel combined with a maze.  You will have little to no visibility. You will have to follow the tunnel and avoid the obstacles.  
  • The search tunnel is 3 ft high, 4 ft wide, and 64 ft long.  You must complete this while avoiding all of the obstacles before you can exit and do your 85-foot walk to the finish line. 

Failing will occur if you don’t complete the maze and the walk. If you panic and can’t finish, then you will fail the event and the CPAT. 

7. Rescue Drag

This is a pretty straight forward event. You are proving that you can rescue a person or fellow firefighter by dragging a 165 lb dummy 35 feet around the barrel.   A 180-degree turn is also required during this.

You are allowed to adjust your grip on the dummy during the test but you are not permitted to prop yourself up on a barrel.  You have to stay on your feet, unsupported the whole time. If you fall or try to support yourself on anything then you will fail the test. 

8. Ceiling Breach and Pull

At a fire, firefighters use pike poles and other tools to pull down the ceiling sheetrock to determine if the fire has spread to the attic space. That being said, one of the 8 events on the CPAT is being able to breach a ceiling and pull it down using what is called a pike pole.

  • For this, you need to remove the pull from its hanging spot and push up on the prop fully 3 times
  • You will then put the pike pole hook over the prop and pull down fully 5 times
  • You will perform the 3 pushes and 5 pulls sequence a total of 4 times 
  • You will fail if you drop the tool and/or you leave the designated area 

Here is a video showing the steps involved in the CPAT test:

FCTC S. El Monte - CPAT Orientation

To sign up for the CPAT test, go to FCTConline.org

Biddle/PAT Test

There is another physical ability and agility test called the Biddle/PAT test. This test is done by a third party company and an evaluator that is separate from the fire department. 

This test is not nearly as common as the CPAT but there is a chance you will apply with a department that uses this test.

While it is similar in some ways, such as the candidates will wear full gear while completing these events, it is also different.  Instead of the 8 events that the CPAT has, this test has 11 events on it. Another way this test is different is that the candidate must complete the entire test in less than 9 minutes and 34 seconds

1. Dry Hose Deployment

For this event, the candidate, while in full gear, must carry the hose (that is not charged with water), 150 feet around 2 obstacles.  In order to pass this event, the candidate must not drop the hose or neglect to make it around the 2 obstacles. 

2. Charged Hose Deployment

In addition to maneuvering an un-charged hose, candidates that take this test are required to also maneuver a charged hose.  This is an event that is unique to the Biddle test, so not all fire candidates will end up taking this part of a PAT. 

For this event, candidates will have to advance the charged hose 70 feet32 of those feet will be while crawling or stooping through a continually narrowing hallway. 

3. Halyard Raise

This event on the Biddle test is pretty straight forward.  The candidate simply has to raise and lower the fly section of the extension ladder one time.  Maybe this sounds easy, but if you drop the rope, or lose control of the ladder, then you will not pass this event. 

4. Roof Walk

Another event that is unique to the Biddle test is the roof walk.  The CPAT does not require this event. However, since firefighters do at some point walk on perilous roofs, this is a good test of skills for all rookie firefighters. This event is intimidating at best so make sure you are prepared. 

  • Climb up and down a 14-foot ladder that is attached to something that mimics a pitched roof.
  • Do this in full gear while carrying a chainsaw in one hand. 

Failing this test would be a result of dropping the chainsaw, failing to make it up or down the ladder, falling off of the ladder, or panicking for any reason. 

5. Attic Crawl

The attic crawl is another event that is unique to the Biddle test.  This is not something that is seen on the CPAT. It is a good idea to make sure you know what test your department will be using so you are not over-prepared or underprepared for your physical ability test. 

For this event, the candidate will be climbing through a simulation of an attic with joists.  Only certain places will be able to bear weight. The candidate will be able to have a flashlight, but they will still have to crawl with full gear for 20 feet.

6. Roof Ventilation

This event simulates the work of ventilating a roof by opening it up with a hand tool (sledgehammer or axe).

  • Candidate uses an 8-pound sledgehammer on sets up on the slanted roof prop
  • Candidate puts one foot on the provided footrest
  • Candidate strikes the prop from this position 30 times
  • Candidate must bring hammer above helmet on each strike
  • The candidate may use a one-hand slide technique on the axe or not
  • The candidate may not crouch or be on one knee; they must be standing throughout this event

7. Victim Removal

This is one of the events that is on both the Biddle test and the CPAT.  This is a non-negotiable skill that every firefighter will use and must be physically fit enough to do.  Seriously, this is a major fitness requirement. And while these events are similar, the Biddle test actually uses a lighter dummy. 

  • Drag a 154 lb dummy around 2 obstacles that are 13 feet apart.
  • Failure of this event would result if you dropped the dummy, you were unable to drag the dummy, or fell while dragging the dummy through the obstacles.  Also if you miss the obstacles, you would receive a failing mark. 

8. Ladder Removal/Carry

This ladder carry is slightly different than the CPAT ladder carry that was discussed earlier. 

  • Candidate must retrieve a 24-foot extension ladder from the location where it is kept.
  • After retrieval the candidate, while in full gear, carries the ladder around a predetermined course that totals 54 feet
  • When the course is finished the ladder must be returned to its place before you can go on to the next event. 

If any of these tasks are not completed, or the ladder is dropped at any point, the candidate will fail this event. 

9. Stair Climb with Hose Pack

This event is the event that leads up to the second attic crawl.  The candidate has to carry the hose on their back while wearing full gear, up 4 flights of stairs

Failure occurs if you can’t make it up or down the stairs with the hose.

10 .Crawling Search

At the top of the stairs, they must then drop the hose and complete a 60-foot attic crawl. At the end of the attic crawl, the candidate has to retrieve the hose and go down the stairs to the first floor

Failure to make it all four flights with the hose and then descend would cause the candidate to fail this event. Preparation for these events and being physically fit is of the utmost importance. 

11. Hose Hoist

The hose hoist is typically the last event on the test.  This is a test run by a testing company but some departments may change the sequence of events.  They will tell you if that is the case. 

To pass the hose hoist event, you have to climb 3 flights of stairs while carrying 2 air bottles weighing a total of 29 lbs.  The air bottles will be connected by a strap. Once at the top, the candidate will put the air bottles down and retrieve, from the window, 100 feet of hose

Once the hose is in the window, nozzle and all, the candidate will pick the air bottles back up and go down the 3 flights of stairs towards the finish line.  By this time, even though it has likely only been 8 minutes, your body will be tired and hot from the previous events and carrying all of the gear. But, the good news is that you are almost finished. 

Once the finish line is crossed, the test is finished and the timer is stopped. As long as there were no failure points as described above; if you finished within the allowed time, you will pass this test. 

Here is a video showing a demonstration of the Biddle test:

Rio Hondo Biddle Exam

Training Tips

One of the most effective ways that I have found to train for these tests and for the overall fitness requirements of being a firefighter is using a weighted vest.

The vest can be worn while climbing stairs or hills and helps to simulate the challenge of working in full firefighter protective gear. This is surprisingly difficult and needs to be trained for.

In order to train as if I was wearing my full firefighting gear, I bought a 60-pound weight vest made by Cross101. I used this while training for firefighter testing and prior to the fire academy and it really helped me to go into these fit and prepared.

I recommend getting one of these. Don’t get a cheap one, as they seem to fall apart really quickly. It’s worth the money to invest in your future career and health.

Other Requirements or Tests

Not every department uses these testing methods.  These are just the most popular and most commonly seen, but it is possible for a department to create its own test, or to use its own test in conjunction with the Biddle or the CPAT.  Some departments may even require one of these tests before they will even consider your application. 

However, if you are physically prepared for the CPAT or Biddle test, you should have a sufficient level of fitness to pass any firefighter physical test. Just remember, some fire academies are much more physically strenuous and challenging than the CPAT or Biddle; so you want to exceed the baseline level of fitness that is tested with the CPAT.

While the specific types of exercises or tests are up to the department, they must test the physical fitness requirements of the NFPA 1582.  These requirements are:

  • Aerobic Capacity
  • Body Composition
  • Grip Strength
  • Leg Strength
  • Arm Strength
  • Muscle Endurance
  • Core Stabilization
  • Flexibility

All of the events on the Biddle and CPAT test these specific fitness areas and make sure that each recruit that is hired meets the fitness requirements.  When training for these tests, make sure that the focus of your exercise is on these 8 fitness areas. This will ensure that your body is able to stand up to the events required to pass these tests and become a firefighter. 

For an in-depth article on training for the CPAT test, read: 8 Tips for the Firefighter Physical Test: Passing the CPAT


Here is a great book that goes into more details on developing the fitness needed as a firefighter: Firefighter Functional Fitness

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