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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Station Life: Test by Combat

As you can imagine, firefighting is a physically demanding profession.  As a result of this firefighters are expected to maintain an excellent level of cardiovascular and muscular endurance.  Every year BFR personnel’s fitness levels are evaluated through two different methods.  The first of these methods is a comprehensive physical assessment; the second method is what’s known as the firefighter “Combat Test”. 
In 1974 doctors at the Sports Medicine Center at the University of Maryland were approached by a Fire Chief with the idea to create a physical ability test that would determine if a person had the capabilities to perform the duties of a firefighter.  By 1976 the doctors completed a long and extensive study which lead to the creation of a “Combat Test” which incorporates the five most commonly performed fireground tasks. During this test all personnel are required to wear turnout gear and SCBA to fully simulate a fire scene.  The goal is to complete each event in succession without stopping and within a time limit. 

The first task of the combat test involves carrying a tightly folded section of 1 ¾” hose, known as a high rise pack, up to the fourth floor of the training building. Once the firefighter reaches the fourth floor they will drop the hose in a designated area and head back downstairs.  Firefighters may skip stairs or take them two-at-a-time on the way up but must touch every step on the way back down. 

A firefighter begins their test as soon as they pick up the hose.
Upon exiting the structure firefighters make their way to an extension ladder.  There they must quickly raise and lower the ladder in a controlled manner.
Next the firefighters approach the Keiser Sled.  At this station they will straddle a 165 pound beam and strike it with a 9 pound sledgehammer.  The goal of this evolution is to drive the beam 5 feet to the end of the track that it sits on.  This simulates having to ventilate a roof using an axe on an emergency scene.
Also a test of balance and coordination, the firefighter must hit the beam while moving backwards at the same time.
Once done with the sled, firefighters travel 140 feet to a charged section of 1 ¾” hose.  The firefighter will advance the hose 75 feet before spraying water out of the nozzle.  This event simulates the most common firefighting task; moving hose to the fire in order to “put the wet stuff on the red stuff”. 
A firefighter makes quick work of this task by running with the hose over his shoulder

Finally, the firefighters have reached the last station. Here they will lift or drag a dummy that weighs roughly 175 pounds 100 feet to the finish line.  This event simulates a firefighter having to rescue a citizen trapped in a fire or another firefighter who may have become injured.
There are many different techniques to accomplish this task.  This firefighter is demonstrating the most common method of grabbing the dummy under the arms and walking backwards with it

Once across the finish line the test is complete and firefighters are shown their time.
As you may or may not know, firefighters can be a highly competitive bunch.  This test has created a friendly competition between firefighters, stations and shifts all over the world including right here in Brentwood!  In fact, the competition has become so popular that in 1991 one of the doctors that created the test started the first official Firefighter Combat Challenge.  From then on the competition has become more and more popular every year. Today you can attend competitions all over the world several times a year and even watch it on ESPN!  You can find more information about the Scott Safety Firefighter Challenge if you click here.
The combat test has been proven as such an effective evaluation tool that BFR uses a slightly modified version of the test as part of its application process, as seen here: