Study Reveals Important Fitness Measures for Firefighters

Two physical fitness measures – aerobic fitness and resistance to muscle fatigue – are key to firefighters’ ability to pass a standard test of firefighting skills, according to a study published in the November issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

The study helps to identify important physical fitness goals for firefighters, according to Andrew K. Sheaff, M.S., and colleagues at the Department of Kinesiology of University of Maryland.

According to the researchers, the results “provide further support that active firefighters lacking minimal aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels may not be prepared for the required duties of the firefighting profession.”

Passing the CPAT

The study was designed to determine which physical fitness measures affect firefighters’ chances of passing the Candidate Physical Ability Test Program (CPAT). The CPAT is a standard test developed to assess recruits’ ability to perform essential firefighting skills, such as climbing stairs, carrying equipment and dragging a victim to safety – all while wearing a heavy backpack.

In the study, 33 recruits participated in 4 days of testing, in which a wide range of physical fitness variables were assessed. On the fifth day, they took the CPAT. Based on the ability to perform eight tasks in a specified time, 18 recruits passed and 15 failed the test.

Power generated during an anaerobic cycling test and maximal oxygen uptake – a measure of overall cardiovascular fitness – was significantly higher in recruits who passed the CPAT, compared to those who failed. The same two factors were related to CPAT score, along with four other fitness measures: fatigue during the anaerobic cycling test, upper body strength, grip strength and the heart rate response to stair climbing. Leg strength did not affect CPAT performance.

Overall, the best predictors of CPAT performance were resistance to muscle fatigue and maximal oxygen uptake. In combination, these two factors explained more than 80 percent of the variation in CPAT scores. Only one of the eight firefighting skills tested on the CPAT (the “ceiling breach and pull”) was unrelated to the physical fitness measures tested.

Firefighting is a physically demanding profession, yet few studies have evaluated the most important physical fitness measures for firefighters. Researchers explained that these study results “indicate the important contributions of both aerobic and anaerobic fitness to successful CPAT performance.”

Sheaff and colleagues believe that training programs aimed at improving firefighting performance in general – and CPAT performance in particular – should target these specific attributes. They also think their results may help in screening potential applicants for the necessary fitness to pass the CPAT, as well as for active firefighting duties.

The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research is the official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. The study’s senior author was Ben F. Hurley, Ph.D.

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