I had never really been “sporty.” In elementary school I stood on a field and stared at the sky while a bunch of other kids in matching uniforms played soccer around me. In junior high, I managed to make it on the football team thanks to a growth spurt that left me larger than almost everyone else. In High School I wrestled till I tore a tendon in my shoulder. In college, friends invited me to play basketball with them, mostly for the humor value.
After I graduated, I did enough to stay attractive to members of the opposite sex. After I got engaged, my wife and I did the least amount of training required to do Sprint-length Triathlons, mostly as incentive to look good in wedding pictures. We actually did keep it up until she had the blood clot issues.
When I decided to embark upon the Fire Fighter adventure, I realized I would have to get to a different level of fitness. After a little bit of research, I decided that the p90x routine seemed the best routine to cover all the bases. The workouts are excellent, but the schedule (if you stick to it strictly) is daunting. Between 2009 and 2011, I did the first 5 weeks of the routine easily half dozen times.
When I walked into the CPAT facility, I had also been taking EMT classes for a month or so, along with my marriage and my full-time job. You could say that I was burning the candle with a butane torch.
They start off with a short orientation video that explains what to expect-in case you don’t know how Google works. The CPAT is a times test. You have 10 min and 20 seconds to finish 8 exercises. Since the first event is a stair climb that lasts 3 min, you really have 7 min and 20 seconds to finish 7 exercises—assuming you make it off the stair machine. With one exception, you can never run in or between exercises.
I was led into the testing facility, a basketball-court sized room filled with intimidating apparatus. I talked a bit with some of the other men testing. Every one of them had some story directly related to Fire Service: switching between departments, just having graduated from Fire Academy, part of a Fire Fighting legacy. Just before my turn, the judges had me put on a helmet, work gloves, and a 50 lb vest that I would have to wear for the duration of the test to simulate the normal Firefighting gear. I sat down in a molded plastic chair and watched the person in front of me finish up the stair climb.
Exercise 1 was the Stair Climb. As my turn came up, the judges put an additional 20 lbs on my shoulders, to simulate a High Rise pack, for a grand total of 70 lbs. I got on the stair machine for a 20 second “warm up” that I didn’t want (but luckily didn’t count toward the overall time). When the warm up period was over, the stair speed increased to 1 step every second, with I had to keep up for 3 minutes. I sang a slow Be Thou My Vision in my head to the beat of my steps, mostly to distract myself, but partly to keep rhythm. By the end, my legs were shaking and I was gulping air.
I got a 5 seconds break as the judges removed the additional 20 lbs. The judge assigned to follow me through the test followed me as I moved to the next event. He reminded me that I was not allowed to run between events (not that I could have) and started telling me the rules of the next exercise. My brain registered that he was speaking, though his words seemed a barely coherent and mostly ignored mash.
Exercise 2 was the Hose Drag—the only event where I would be allowed to run. I picked up a fire hose, threw an end over my shoulder and ran—really a slightly faster walk—30 feet, where I took a 90 degree turn around a barrel and ran another 30 feet to the goal. Once I passed the goal, I turned, dropped to one knee, and pulled the rest of the hose to me. I didn’t watch it come, just waited for my brain to register that the judge said stop. My knees wobbled as I stood to move to the next exercise.
Exercise 3 was the Equipment Carry. One at a time, I took a chainsaw and a concrete saw off a shelf and put them on the ground. Then I picked them both up, one in each hand, and carried them in a 50 ft loop. Then I put them both on the floor and, one-at-a-time, put them back on the shelf.
Exercise 4 was the Ladder Raise. I picked an extension ladder off the ground and raised it up against a wall by walking my hands up the rungs, one by one. I was not allowed to skip any rungs. Once it was up, I used the rope to raise the extension up and lower it again in a controlled manner.
Exercise 5 was the Breach. I picked up a 2-handed sledge and began beating it against a contraption meant to simulate the effort needed to beat down a door. Once I’d delivered the necessary force, a buzzer went off and I carefully put the sledge back.
Exercise 6 was the Search. I dropped down on all fours and crawled into a tunnel. Once past the initial entry point, it was black. It is a 50 ft crawl over, around, and under obstacles in the pitch. The hardest part was resisting the urge to just lie in the dark.
Exercise 7 was the Rescue Carry. Any rest I’d gotten in the Search tunnel (not much) was lost as I grabbed a 130 lb dummy by a harness and dragged it in a 50 ft loop. There is really no comfortable way to do that while also wearing a 50 lb pack.
Exercise 8 was the Ceiling Breach and Pull. 1 set consists of using a fireman’s pike to push a 60 lb plate up 3 times and then pull a 80 lb weighted hinge down 5 times. To pass this exercise, I needed to complete 4 repetitions. As I started my 4th repetition, I ran out of time.
My judge immediately took the weight off my back and led me into a side room to cool down. I paced around the room, gasping air and swallowing a lot lactic acid, trying not to be sick. A judge waited behind a small table. He reminded me that I was entitled to retest as long as I could take it before the end of the day. Once I had settled down enough, I signed my form confirming that I failed and drove home.