10 minutes, 20 seconds

For the general population, the time: ten minutes, 20 seconds doesn’t necessarily ring any bells for them. It might be the amount of time it takes to detour off their route, drive through the Starbuck’s and grab a drink. Or the amount of time that they spend reading books to their children before bedtime.

For candidates attempting to gain employment in the fire service, 10 minutes, 20 seconds represents the minimum performance required for passing the CPAT—candidate physical ability test. A performance in 10:20 or less represents the opportunity to be hired by a fire department. 10:21? You didn’t make the cut and you will need to challenge the test again and again until you succeed.

For fire departments, a passing CPAT score represents finding a candidate that likely possesses the physical requirements to be able to conquer the training required to do the job. Think of it this way: when you’re hiring a personal assistant, their ability to type 80 words per minute and make a basic spreadsheet indicates that they will likely also be able to figure out other computer-based office tasks, right?

But what about candidates that struggle to pass the CPAT? They take it 4, 5, 12 times and finally, miraculously pass that test? Their family and friends rally behind them cheering “You did it! Congratulations!”

They’ve indeed met the requirement, but do they really have the aptitude for the job? I would venture to guess that someone that struggles greatly to pass the test will also eventually struggle greatly on the job, maybe sooner than later.

Time never moves backwards. It doesn’t matter how young you are when you start this career—time marches on. And physiologically, fitness becomes a little bit more of a challenge each year. Power declines the most, but absolute strength, cardiovascular endurance and even body composition tend to deteriorate a little bit each year even in those employees that very actively seek to maintain their physical prowess.

“When you’re hiring my co-workers, I want a champion, not a feel-good story”

Now consider those that barely passed their CPAT by the skin of their teeth whether it was due to cardiovascular endurance deficits, absolute strength deficits, mental blocks or simply non-optimal body composition. In most cases, these employees will be like most employees and their skills and abilities will deteriorate year after year.

This job isn’t for everyone. And I always say, when you’re hiring my co-workers, I want a champion, not a feel-good story. If you are attempting to break into this career and struggling to pass the CPAT, doing some targeted training is a great idea. But if you are struggling to pass the CPAT and eventually pass by a millisecond, I implore you to realize that you still have so much more work to do. Be better. Do better. Train better. Do the most, not the least. Both of our lives depend upon it.

In fitness,