Training for the CPAT? Start here.

Becoming a firefighter is perhaps one of the most rewarding careers that anybody can have, and training for the CPAT will be one of your first steps on the journey.  It’s a profession that’s all about helping others. Whether you’re saving people trapped in a burning wreckage or extinguishing fire from a commercial building, the bottom line is that you’re rescuing people.

That said, firefighting requires a high level of commitment; not to mention, stamina and enough bravery to be willing to sacrifice your life for others. To add to these traits, an individual is required to pass grueling physical tests, the most basic of which is The Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT). 

In our article, we’ll explain what this physical examination is all about and recommend workouts and books that can help you pass CPAT.

How To Prepare For The CPAT

If you’re planning to become a firefighter, one test you should familiarize yourself with and train for adequately is CPAT. In fact, this is regarded as the international standard for health and fitness among firefighters.

The core details of this test vary based on your geographic location. But overall, it encompasses a series of physically demanding tasks. If you can complete each of these activities successfully, then you’ll get a good score on your CPAT.

CPAT consists of 8 distinct events. The toughest part about this evaluation is that all activities are designed to be performed in a non-stop progression. The events in chronological order are:

  1. Stair climbing
  2. Hose dragging
  3. Equipment carrying
  4. Ladder raise and extension
  5. Forcible entry
  6. Searching
  7. Rescuing
  8. Breaching a ceiling

 Each one of these tasks is meant to simulate a real-life situation that a firefighter might encounter. The administrators of the test will have mapped out a specific route that you follow from one activity to the next.

Usually, the interval between these tasks is an 85-feet “walking” distance. This is the only opportunity you get to recover before diving into the next activity.

There’s an emphasis on the term walking for safety purposes. Ideally, hose dragging is the only activity where you’re allowed to run. In all the others you can walk at your own pace; whether you want to speed walk or go at a turtle’s pace, the choice is yours.

As you move through the series of tasks, you won’t have too much time on your hands to consider what you’re doing next. For this reason, participants are guided by proctors who follow closely behind to provide the necessary instructions. Here are the main CPAT events:

CPAT Stair Climb

In emergency situations, firefighters are often forced to carry tons of equipment through countless flights of stairs. These pieces of equipment include personal protective equipment (PPE), self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), and hose bundles. 

The stair climb test is meant to simulate this situation. However, the task you have to do for test purposes is much harder because you’ll be draped in a 50lb. vest and an extra 25 lb.shoulder block.

To pass this stage, you’ll have to walk on the provided stair climber for 3 minutes and 20 seconds at the pre-determined speed. The initial 20 seconds of the allocated duration represent the warm-up period. This stage entails going through the flight of stairs at a rate of 50 steps per minute.

At this point, you can support your weight using the railing of the climber as you acquaint yourself with how the piece of equipment works. However, if you accidentally get off from the climber, you’ll have to start the warm-up from scratch. Keep in mind that you only get two attempts at this.

The warm-up and the remaining 3-minute testing phases are to be performed in quick succession. So as soon as you complete the warm-up, the stair climber is set for the 3-minute testing stage. This entails increasing the pace of the climber to 60 steps per minute.

 When you get close to the 3:20 minute mark, your proctor will alert you so that you get ready to dismount the stair climber. Another individual will then come and take off the additional 25lbs of shoulder blocks. This gives you the go-ahead to proceed to the 85 feet walking distance.

 What situations can lead you to fail the stair climb test?

  1. If you’re not able to complete the warm-up event successfully within 2 attempts
  2. Supporting yourself on the railing of the climber during the main testing stage. If you happen to use the railing only once, you’ll receive a warning. If you fail to heed to this caution, you’ll have failed the entire CPAT test.

Hose Drag

As a firefighter, another skill you need to master is how to swiftly pull an uncharged hose line from the fire truck, extend and direct it to the object or house under fire. The hose drag event is designed to simulate this situation.

Here, you’ll have to carry a 1 ¾ hose line on your shoulder with the nozzle in your hand. You’re expected to navigate this hose around a designated course, usually around a prepositioned barrel or drum and then all the way to the crossing line.

When you get to the specified finish point, you’re required to take a knee, then use hand-over-hand method to drag at least 50 ft of the hose line to the next designated mark. When you’ve pulled the 50ft portion to the finish line, you can proceed to the 85-feet distance.

Failing to adhere to several rules can cause you to fail this test. These include:

  •     Running outside the allocated perimeter
  •     Failing to remain on one knee when you’re supposed to

Equipment Carry

When you arrive at the scene of a fire, you’ll need to be incredibly swift at removing the necessary tools and transporting them to where they’re needed. The equipment carry event is designed to test your speed. 

During the test, you’re expected to walk to where the cabinet is. Next, remove the power tools, one at a time and place them on the ground. Then, transport the equipment over a distance of 75 feet and back to the starting point.

Once you reach the starting point, place the tools on the ground, pick them up again and carry them to the cabinet. Take note that the designated path will be filled with a couple of drums and barrels that you have to navigate.

To pass this stage of the CPAT test, do not:

  •     Lose control of the equipment at any point
  •     Run

Ladder Raise and Extension

Apart from carrying tools, another task you should be adept at is positioning ladders on fire or hazardous scenes.

Thus, this event is designed to test how good you are at doing this. To complete it, approach the 24ft extension ladder put on the ground. Take the upper-most rung and use the rungs to position the ladder against the wall.

Next, go to the marked area and start raising the fly section of a 24ft extension ladder. The next step involves using the rope halyard of the ladder to elevate the ladders fly section.

 When the fly section is completely extended, you can proceed to lowering it in a controlled manner. This step should bring the fly section to its initial position, and this means you’re free to walk the 85 ft distance to your next activity.

Mistakes to avoid as you perform this test are:

  •     Skipping a rung when raising the ladder from the ground
  •     Losing control of the ladder. If the ladder drops, this will trigger the safety mechanism attached to it, and you’ll have failed the test
  •     Losing control of the halyard rope; you should drop the fly section in a controlled manner
  •     Going out of the marked spots

Forcible Entry

Whenever there’s a fire, it’s not uncommon for exit routes to get blocked automatically with the aim of preventing the fire from spreading further. However, this also poses a challenge as people can get trapped within the building. Firefighters, thus, need to find a way to access these spaces even with blocked pathways.

The forcible entry event simulates a situation where a firefighter has to use a sledgehammer to break into or out of an area with restricted access.

 During this test, you’ll be handed a 10 lb. sledgehammer that you must use to strike the center of the designated force entry point. Your goal is to strike the designated spot until the props buzzard is activated. Once activated, you’re free to walk to the 85ft interval.

When striking the forcible entryway, you have to:

  •     Maintain control of the sledgehammer throughout. If you drop or throw it away, you’ll fail the test
  •     Stick to the marked area. Do not step outside the perimeter, lest you get a warning or fail the test


This activity is designed to mimic a situation where a firefighter has to look for victims in poorly-lit conditions. This test will require you to search blindly through a dark tunnel maze. The search area is usually about 3ft high, 4ft wide and 64ft long.

As you navigate your way, you’ll encounter numerous obstacles. You can only proceed to the 85ft walk after you’ve overcome these obstacles and reached the exit point. 


This event tests your ability to find and remove victims or fellow firefighters from fire scenes or dangerous situations. To prove yourself, you’ll have to drag a 165 lbs. dummy 35ft around a barrel. During your navigation, you’ll have to make a 180-degree turn at some point.

The rescue part of the test allows a bit of flexibility. For instance, if you want to get a good grip, you’re allowed to stop and make adjustments. However, you’re not permitted to support yourself using the barrel or drum. 

Ceiling Breach and Pull

This task simulates the action of a firefighter breaching a ceiling using a pike pole. In this case, you’re required to detach the pole from the prop and stand, within the marked area.

The next thing you’ll have to do is place the pole’s tip on the painted section of the ceiling and push through until it opens. 

Some of the mistakes you should avoid when performing this task are:

  •     Dropping the pole more than once
  •     Stepping outside the designated area

CPAT Test Prep

Passing CPAT requires adequate preparation. By this we mean, performing workouts that help you to stay in shape for the big day as well as gathering all the theoretical knowledge you can.

With knowledge and stamina, you’ll be able to make split-second decisions and execute them efficiently regardless of the simulations you face on your examination day.

You can get tons of information from books written for firefighters. Similarly, you can follow workout plans designed specifically to prepare you for CPAT training.

Must-Read Books to Prepare You for CPAT

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Written by Al Wasser and Donna Kimble, this book is interactive and very enlightening.

What we love most about this text is that it places an emphasis on CPAT training. So while other books provide general information about firefighter training, this one focuses on training specifically for the CPAT test.

After reading this book, you’ll be able to formulate and implement a solid training regimen. You will also learn how to balance all aspects of training including physical exercises, nutrition and fitness concepts.

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Written by the former director of the New York City Fire Department, this book will help you to be physically ready for the upcoming CPAT.

It provides a detailed guide on how you should train so as to achieve an optimal fitness level. Focusing on a multi-phased approach, Kevin Malley’s techniques have been proven to be effective in transforming unfit individuals to candidate-ready CPAT firefighters.

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After completing the CPAT test successfully, you’ll quickly learn that this training was just half the battle. There’s still so much to learn, especially when it comes to what you’re expected to do during your first assignment and in the course of the probation period.

Collin S. Blasingame, Justin C. Dickstein and John E. Gomez, wrote this book to shorten a novice firefighter’s learning curve. This way, they can ease into their new roles and become outstanding professionals right from the first day.

 Now in its second edition, this book explains concepts such as:

  •     How to choose the ideal city of employment
  •     The increasing functions of fire departments
  •     The chain of command in a fire department
  •     How to seize opportunities
  •     Why you should be involved in your community

Best Workouts to Prepare for CPAT

Given that CPAT is a physically demanding series of activities, it’s vital that you perform exercises in readiness for the test. 

With your exercise regimen, you should aim at improving these areas:

  •     Core strength
  •     Cardiovascular capacity
  •     The push and pull
  •     The lift
  •     The carry
  •     The drag
  •     Flexibility

Here are some exercises that take these fitness concepts into account:

The Plank

This exercise is your best bet at developing core strength. Your core is the secret to helping you achieve a high level of physical fitness. It also minimizes the likelihood of suffering injuries and muscle strains that are common during a firefighter’s training.

What makes the plank such a suitable exercise is its versatility. This low-impact activity can be done anywhere. You can even perform it as a warm-up before proceeding to more intense exercises.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

This particular activity is meant to improve your cardiovascular fitness. It’s one of the most recommended exercises for CPAT training because it imitates the different levels of physical intensity that a firefighter is subjected to, during real-life situations.

 For optimal results, experts recommend combining low-intensity and high-intensity workouts. For instance, you can do 20 seconds of a HIIT exercise then 20 seconds of a low-intensity task for between 10 and 30 minutes.

A good example of a high-intensity activity is crawling. Not only does it enhance your cardio fitness but it also improves your core, upper and lower-body strength. Plus, it makes you more flexible.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of this exercise, you can challenge yourself by dragging a heavy tool as you crawl. Try carrying a kettlebell or charged hose line.

Downward Dog

If you’re looking to improve your flexibility, the downward dog exercise should be at the top of your to-do list. When performed using the right technique, this activity targets your feet, calves, hamstrings, back, chest and shoulder muscles, all at once.


Often, firefighters are forced to engage their upper-body muscle groups to elevate themselves to certain places. An easy way to increase the endurance of these muscle groups is to incorporate push-ups in your exercise.

And the good thing is that you don’t need any special gym equipment to perform push-ups. But if you’re looking to take things a notch higher, here are a few tricks you can use:

  •     Raise your feet by placing them on a bench
  •     Suspend one of your legs mid-air
  •     Increase or decrease the distance between your hands
  •     Attempt “Bosu ball”, “yoga” or “hindu” types of push-ups


These exercises are incredibly efficient at increasing the upper body strength that most firefighters need. As with push-ups, you’ll be using your own weight to improve strength in your arms and back.

The benefit of performing pull-ups is that they don’t place excess strain on your joints. And if you’re not strong enough to perform pull-ups, you can always use elastic bands for the first few sessions.


This is a weight training activity that involves raising a loaded barbell or bar from the ground to your hip level. It targets your leg and core muscles, and boosts the muscular endurance that firefighters need to perform lifts, carries and drags.

One perk of performing deadlifts is that they offer a great deal of flexibility. You can vary the amount of weight and number of reps to suit your fitness level.

Dumbbell Lunges

Though a simple exercise, a lunge has a significant impact on your fitness. And while you can perform it without any equipment, incorporating dumbbells helps to engage your upper leg muscles even more. 

Additionally, weighted lunges improve your balance- which is a vital skill when you’re performing the stair climb of your CPAT training. If you’re having trouble maintaining stability when you take a step forward, start off without weights. Once you learn the proper technique, you can add weights.

Hose, Tire and Dummy Drags

One of the activities you’re required to do to pass CPAT, is to carry an uncharged hose line and navigate it through a designated course. You can train for this cumbersome task by dragging a heavy object such as a hose, tire or dummy. As you drag, focus on improving your strength as opposed to speed. 

Additional Tips for CPAT Training

Attend the Open Day

Different states organize open days where new and prospective students can learn a couple of things about a career as a firefighter. The good thing is that most of these events are free. Also, they explore an array of sectors in firefighting: from search and rescue to breaching ceilings and more.

Pay attention to your diet

Following an exercise regimen is a step in the right direction. However, you also need to think about your diet. When you become a firefighter, your competence and efficiency will depend, to a great extent, on the food you eat.

As such, your diet should include vitamins, nutrients and minerals that not only facilitate muscle growth but also boost your cardiovascular endurance.

 With every meal you prepare, ensure it has adequate proteins ( for muscle building and repair), legumes (which keep you feeling full for a long time), vegetables and fruits (as they are chock full of vitamins and minerals).


The CPAT is the lowest level physical test that you have to do to qualify as a firefighter. Though the series of tasks you have to perform are difficult and strenuous, they’re not impossible.

 With sufficient preparation, you can blaze through these activities and pass the test. By preparation, we mean gathering as much information as you can relating to firefighter training programs, maintaining the right diet and engaging in physical activity.