UPDATED 2021

Firefighter Test Guide

Firefighter Test Summary
What: The Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) determines if a candidate is physically able to handle the job of being a firefighter.
Who: Individuals wishing to be hired as firefighters must take the CPAT exam, following a written exam before being hired.
Where: Locations vary in each municipality.
When: Candidates need to check with the fire department in which they are applying to find out when the tests are given.
How: The test is broken down into eight physical activities that must be completed in succession within a specified time frame.
Type: This is a physical test and is graded as pass or fail.
Why: It is important to insure that candidates wishing to become entry level firefighters are physically capable of handling the challenging physical demands of the job.
Time: All eight activities in the CPAT must be completed in less than 10 minutes and 20 seconds.
Language: English
Preparation: There is an orientation and training sessions for the CPAT. Some departments offer a practice test and some CPAT testing centers offer a supervised practice test for a fee. Candidates must also be in good physical condition prior to taking the test.
Cost: Costs vary depending on location or agency administering the test.

Being a firefighter is a physically demanding job, and therefore a test of physical ability is required in order to determine if a person is physically capable of handling the job. Prior to the physical test, candidates must first take some form of a written exam. This exam can vary by location, but for the most part, written exams include basic questions that demonstrate reading comprehension, as well as questions related to the job of being a firefighter. Types of questions may include understanding laws and regulations related to the job and understanding mechanical devices, as well as questions related to reasoning and judgment, observation and memory and spatial orientation. The written exam is just a screening exam, and if passed, enables a candidate to move onto the next step in the hiring process, which is usually a physical ability test.FireFighter Practice Test

The Candidate Physical Ability Tests (CPAT) is a standardized test created by the International Association of Firefighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs that insures that potential recruits are physically capable of performing the activities associated with being a firefighter. Being a firefighter is one of the most physically demanding jobs there is and the CPAT is a way to determine whether candidates are physically capable of handling the tremendous physical demands required by the job.

The CPAT tests physical skills required by firefighters while operating at a fire scene. The test requires that candidates complete eight activities in less than 10 minutes and 20 seconds. These activities include the stair climb, hose drag, equipment carry, ladder raise and extension, forcible entry, search, rescue and ceiling breach and pull. When taking the CPAT, all candidates must simulate the equipment they would be wearing at a fire scene, so the tasks must be completed while wearing a hard hat, gloves and a 50 pound vest, which is about the weight of the protective clothing and breathing apparatus they would be wearing in an actual fire situation. During the stair climb portion of the test, an additional 25 pounds of weight is added to simulate the weight of a high rise pack.

CPAT Exam Format

The test is broken down into eight activities that must be completed in succession. All activities must be completed in less than 10 minutes and 20 seconds. The test is scored as either pass or fail. The activities are as follows:

  • Stair Climb - Candidates must walk up a step mill at a rate of 60 steps per minute for three minutes while carrying an additional 25 pounds of weight.
  • Hose Drag - Candidates must pull a 200 foot hose line 75 feet, make a 90 degree turn, and go another 25 feet. They must then stop within a marked box, drop to at least one knee and pull the hoseline until the 50 foot mark crosses the finish line.
  • Equipment Carry - Candidates must remove two saws from a tool cabinet, one at a time, place them on the ground and adjust their grip. They must then replace them in the tool cabinet one at a time.
  • Ladder Raise and Extension - Candidates must walk to the top rung of a 24 ft. extension ladder, lift the unhinged end and walk it up until it is stationery against the wall. They must do this hand over hand.
  • Forcible Entry - Candidates must use a sledgehammer to strike a measuring device until a buzzer is activated.
  • Search - Candidates must crawl through a maze with obstacles, turns and narrowed spaces.
  • Rescue - Candidates must drag a 165 pound mannequin 35 feet, then make a 180-degree turn and drag it another 35 feet.
  • Ceiling Breach and Pull - Candidates must use a pike pole to push up on a 60 pound hinged door in the ceiling three times and then hook the pike pole to an 80 pound ceiling device and pull the pole down five times. This must be repeated four times.

Exam Location and Registration

Each municipality that hires firefighters determines whether or not they will require a CPAT exam, but most do. Usually an outside agency administers the exam and has a CPAT testing center equipped to handle all of the activities. Dates, locations and fees will vary depending on where the candidate is taking the test. Candidates are usually required to pay their own fees for the test.

Candidates must come dressed appropriately to take the test. Dress code requires long pants, t-shirts or sweatshirts, closed footwear and no loose or restrictive jewelry. Candidates should also bring photo ID.

There is usually an orientation and some training sessions that occur prior to a candidate taking the CPAT. These sessions explain what is required on the test, recommend drills for training and conditioning and provide an opportunity to practice the tasks that will be required to be executed on the test. Some fire departments offer practice tests for candidates to participate in prior to taking the actual test. Since the job of a firefighter is so physically demanding and the CPAT tests that physical ability, candidates should make sure they are in good shape prior to attempting the exam.

Most locations require candidates to be at least 18 years old before taking the CPAT. Written exams are usually administered prior to a CPAT, and only after passing the written exam is the candidate then eligible to take the CPAT.

Interested in becoming a firefighter? Check out our Firefighter Test Directory.